HELENSBURGH’S tennis community has paid warm tributes to Sir Andy Murray for inspiring the next generation of local youngsters to take up the sport.

Sir Andy announced ahead of the Australian Open that he will retire from playing this year – and after his first-round exit in a five-set epic against Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday, he’s expected to decide in the comiing week whether to have a second hip operation which could either prolong his career or end it entirely.

But after that emotional press conference on Friday, Sir Andy has been warmly praised by the Helensburgh tennis community for his contribution not just to tennis but to Scottish sport.

Alan MacBeath, who runs the youth tennis coaching operation at Craighelen Lawn Tennis and Squash Club, said: “Andy Murray is the name that Craighelen juniors scream as they melt a double handed backhand down the line and, at Craighelen anyway, it will be a name that continues to be yelled for a few years to come.

“There is no doubt that Andy has made a massive impact on awareness of tennis in the UK and participation in the sport.

“Andy’s presence on a global stage has inspired so many new and old players to try tennis and acts as the catalyst for so many excellent initiatives, including the Davis Cup Legacy programme.

“This initiative alone has enabled us to introduce over 150 children to tennis, free of charge or at heavily discounted rates, in an exciting and engaging way.

“We will all very much miss Andy, and everyone at Craighelen wishes him and his family all the very best in the years to come. There is no doubt he is a legend.”

Alan said he can still remember rubbing shoulders with the young Murray at a Craighelen Easter tournament 24 years ago.

“Luckily enough I was too old to be drawn against Andy Murray,” he said, “but I do fondly remember playing alongside him and his brother Jamie and having the chance to share court space with these great champions of tennis.

“Even at this very early stage of his journey, Andy was incredible to watch. His fluency and ease on the court was truly mesmerising.

“We all had the dream of winning Wimbledon, but that bushy haired kid made it and he made it all the way.”

Alan’s Craighelen colleague, Eileen Drummond, added: “What has made Andy Murray the legend that he is today? The answer lies, for a large part, in his tremendous love for the sport.

“Andy loves to play tennis and loves to compete. His rise to the top of the tree has been achieved through amazing family support, hard work, hours of practice, excellent coaching structures and a dogged determination, to give of his best and to never give up, even when the chips are down.

“Andy will be greatly missed when he does retire, but the legacy which he will leave on court, for the next generations of youngsters, should be this – if at first you don’t succeed, keep believing, keep practising, and keep enjoying the beautiful game which is tennis.”

Bobby Kerr, junior section convener at Helensburgh Tennis Club, added: “The news of Andy Murray’s imminent retirement from tennis met with great sadness from everyone at Helensburgh Tennis Club.

“He has inspired everyone at the club from our mini red players to our veterans.

“He has shown us that with hard work and belief you can achieve world class status.

“Along with our own Gordon Reid, 2016 saw one of the greatest years for Scottish tennis, with Gordon winning Wimbledon, Australian and Paralympic gold titles and Andy winning his second Wimbledon title and Olympic gold.

“We hope that he will be able to play at Wimbledon this year as it would be a fitting way to end an amazing career.”

Shaun McDonald, a former coach at Craighelen and a past team-mate of Murray's in the junior Scotland national squad set-up, previously told the Advertiser of his memories of playing, and beating, a pre-teen Murray in a doubles tournament.

Shaun said this week: "I firmly believe he is the greatest British sportsman of all time.

"I would never have thought this small kid from Dunblane who was up to my knees competing against me in finals would amount to all this.

"His work ethic at such a young age was incredible but I never thought he was capable of all this. It was unthinkable a boy from Dunblane could achieve all this.

"Off the court he was just a typical kid, loving life at junior tournaments, playing football, sponge ball tennis, table tennis and I had many one-on-one games of putting with him at the inter-district tournament in Kilgraston in Perth – I of course beat him at that!

"I luckily never played Andy after my one victory over him in a tennis tournament as his tennis development was rapid and I don’t think I would have won a point if we met again a few years later.

Gordon Reid himself praised Andy in a BBC radio interview on Monday.