BLANE DODDS is surprisingly upbeat for someone who is at the helm of an organisation that has just endured one of its toughest years in its history.

Every sport in the country has had to contend with countless challenges which have presented themselves as a result of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and Tennis Scotland is no different. But, from the ashes, Dodds and his team have managed to salvage a number of positives from the situation.

“Incredibly, we’ve managed to achieve growth through this period in terms of participation numbers. We’re up by six percent,” he says.

“We were very early out the traps in getting guidelines ready so we managed to make a case, along with golf, and we were the first sports to be released from lockdown, which really helped us. People were just desperate to get out there and play sport again – there’s only so much walking and running you can do. So the chance to meet people and play tennis was hugely attractive and that was, I think, a big factor behind the significant growth we had over the summer.

“It’s been a massively challenging time but I’m very pleased with the way tennis has reacted and come out of it.”

The growth figures are all very encouraging but Dodds is well aware he cannot rest on his laurels.

Tennis Scotland lost around a quarter of its predicted income this year as a knock-on effect of Covid and he admits his first thought when the full effects of the pandemic became apparent was survival. The governing body appears to be out of the woods in that respect but there is still much work to be done with tennis in this country. The LTA, and in turn Tennis Scotland, have long been criticised for failing to capitalise on the boost the Murray brothers have had on the sport and with both Andy and Jamie well into their 30s, time is running out to make the most of their presence at the top of tennis.

Dodds is well aware of the ticking clock and having been in his current post for two and a half years, during which club membership numbers have doubled, he is now confident things are going in the right direction. Earlier this year, Tennis Scotland was the beneficiary of a £12m funding agreement with the LTA with Dodds prioritising both increasing the number of tennis courts across the country and the number of coaches across Scotland.

Already, there has been progress with facilities: a few weeks ago a new £1.24m indoor facility opened in Elgin, and new coaching positions are on the verge of becoming available. However, with Tennis Scotland currently operating with only 12 employees, Dodds knows that with limited resources, he must use all his expertise to make a case for increasing support levels further.

“When I came into this job, I really wanted to get the ambition going again. So we had to make that into a plan and then link it to making a case for more resources. With more resources comes the ability to get the right people involved,” he says.

“We really need to develop coaching jobs because if we’re going to get more kids into the game, we need to create more jobs to make sure we keep that growth going.

“And we want to show ambition with coaches from overseas too, like our National Academy head coach Leo Azevedo who’s worked with the likes of former world No.1, Juan Carlos Ferrero, because the knowledge someone like him brings is so important.”

With Andy Murray, Scotland has had a presence towards the top of the tour for well over a decade, but with retirement in sight for the former Wimbledon champion, Scotland could do with more younger players making their presence felt on the world stage.

With the University of Stirling host to one of the LTA’s performance centres, there are opportunities for home-grown players to forge a path into the professional ranks, although Dodds admits we perhaps shouldn’t be holding our breath for Murray mark two coming along any time soon.

“No one can just go and create the next Andy Murray – someone like him has magic dust sprinkled onto them; you can do everything right but you still need that special quality to get to the top in the world like he has,” Dodds says.

“What’s been great with the Murrays though is everyone’s seen what is possible and, even if you come from Scotland, you can be world class.”