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September 19, 2017

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Britain basks in tennis sunshine with Murray, Watson dazzling

PARIS -- Having waited 76 years for a men's Grand Slam champion and 24 years to celebrate a women's tour winner, Britain, once the cash-heavy, running joke of world tennis, is suddenly a serious player.

Andy Murray's U.S. Open victory, the country's first men's major since Fred Perry took time off from squiring Hollywood sirens Marlene Dietrich and Jean Harlow to triumph in New York in 1936, led the way.

Then, on Sunday, Heather Watson clinched the Japan Open, the first British winner of a women's tour title since Sara Gomer at Aptos in 1988.

Even world number one Victoria Azarenka was impressed.

"congrats to @HeatherWatson92 for making your nation go bonkers," tweeted the Australian Open champion.

Add Murray's London Olympic gold into the mix as well as 18-year-old Laura Robson making the Guangzhou final last month — the first such run by a British player since 1990 — then it's hardly surprising that tennis is enjoying a mini-boom.

Figures released by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), the game's ruling body in the country, show that almost 100,000 under-18s play at a LTA-registered club — an increase of 17 percent on last year.

"I know from speaking to Laura and Heather how passionate they are about getting more young girls into tennis," LTA chief executive Roger Draper told the Guardian.

"They play with a smile on their faces and that enjoyment also comes through in what they do off the court. When we want girls to see tennis as a fun, social sport, what better advert for that than them?"

Social media is also playing a part.

Watson, a former U.S. Open junior champion, has over 35,000 followers on Twitter while Robson, the 2008 Wimbledon girls winner, teamed-up with Canadian youngster Eugenie Bouchard to make a Gangnam video, even enlisting the help of Maria Sharapova along the way.

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