Andy Murray’s former coach named Britain’s Davis Cup captain

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Andy Murray’s former coach named Britain’s Davis Cup captain

The appointment of Andy Murray’s former coach, Leon Smith, as Great Britain’s new Davis Cup captain must surely trigger further questions about the disproportionate reliance of British tennis on one man.

Murray wasn’t among the quartet of players representing Britain in their loss to Lithuania in March’s Europe/Africa Zone Group II tie, a defeat that resulted in John Lloyd stepping down as Davis Cup captain.

However, the LTA’s appointment of Smith as Lloyd’s successor as Davis Cup captain could, on the face of it at least, be interpreted as a thinly veiled attempt to woo their No. 1 player back to the fold for their relegation play-off against Turkey in July.

Smith won the role over more high-profile candidates such as Greg Rusedski, while Tim Henman, probably wisely given the current state of the British Davis Cup team, ruled himself out of the captaincy at least for now in the aftermath of the loss to Lithuania.

The new Davis Cup captain brings with him to the role 16 years as a professional tennis coach, and most recently a stint in a post that it’s probably wise not to trumpet too loudly outside the halls of the Lawn Tennis association, that of the LTA’s Head of Player Development in Men’s Tennis.

That so-called “development” – for which blame must be spread throughout the ranks of the LTA – has left Britain with a Davis Cup squad with talent so thin on the ground that Lithuania’s shoestring tennis budget was able to produce a team with the ability to defeat their British opponents.

The LTA though is optimistic Smith can turn things around as Davis Cup captain.

“Leon is the perfect fit for this important role [Davis Cup captain], at this stage in the development of British men’s tennis,” said LTA Player Director, Steven Martens in announcing Smith’s appointment as Davis Cup coach. ”He’s a young British coach full of energy and passion, who’s already proved he’s a quick learner, and has the respect of the players.”

Presumably, the LTA are hoping he’s got the respect of one player in particular, which brings us back to the Murray factor.

Staring down the barrel of an embarrassing relegation to the Europe/Africa Zone Group III, the basement of the competition, might the LTA be forgiven for appointing a Davis Cup captain with a past working relationship with the world No. 4?

It has been reported that Smith’s relationship with Murray, who he worked with as a junior and in his early days in the senior ranks, did factor into the LTA’s decision to name Smith as Lloyd’s successor.

Given what’s at stake, it’s understandable if the LTA wants to entice Murray to play against Turkey, but it’s also ignoring a glaringly obvious issue: with all the millions of pounds that flows to the LTA for player development, only one British man occupies a place in the top 100 singles rankings. As good as Murray is, without back-up Britain will languish in the lower tiers of the Davis Cup for a while yet.

The evidence for this case is clear. Murray, battling wrist problems at the time, fronted up against Poland in Britain’s relegation play-off last September and the fact the Britons still lost that tie proves that Davis Cup success is about more than one player. As Spain has showed by winning the Davis Cup title for the past two years, once with Rafael Nadal in their team and once without the former world No. 1 in the final, it’s strength in depth that counts in this competition.

Despite a budget that would be the envy of most other teams in the Europe/Africa Zone Group II, the LTA has not been able to produce what should be a cluster of top-50 players and while Murray’s individual success can paper over the cracks on the ATP Tour, in a team event that fact becomes harder to ignore.

For now though, Smith, who has also been promoted to the position of LTA Head of Men’s Tennis, as one of the recommendations of a review into men’s tennis carried out by Martens, following Great Britain’s Davis Cup defeat to Lithuania last month, will surely be keen to have Murray’s services on his team in July.

That may be the obvious and immediate solution as Britain attempt to conjure a face-saving win against Turkey, but as both Davis Cup captain and LTA Head of Men’s Tennis, Smith will need to look at just why this nation is so lacking in highly ranked tennis players, and then implement a strategy to rectify the situation.

Let’s face it, if Smith can’t improve Britain’s Davis Cup performances rather rapidly, the dual roles that have just been bestowed upon him mean the fingers of blame for continued failures are likely to ultimately point in just one direction.



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