British Davis Cup team

Led by local hero Andy Murray, Great Britain have reached Davis Cup semi-finals for first time in 34 years. They’ll next face Australia, who beat Kazakhstan, in September.
Read this interview of Leon Smith, in which he tells how he became team GB Davis Cup captain, and his years as Andy Murray’s coach:

Interview by l’Equipe, July 2015, translation by Tennis Buzz:

Q: Who are you Leon Smith, what is your background?

My background is not conventional, it’s not the story that everyone knows, the former good player who becomes coach. I was a very average player in Scotland. I still live in Scotland, Edinburgh. I played at British level in juniors (he never played on any professional circuit) but I soon realized that I won’t make it. I went back to school. I finished my studies. Without a degree, I must admit (laughs). And so, I started coaching, at 17.

Q: At 17? But it’s too young…

I started as a coach club, then regional coach. At that time I was in Glasgow, Scotland. Rain, cold, snow, and so on. Great years (laughs). I cleaned the courts myself, I had to earn money. Then, fortunately, I coached some of the best Scottish juniors. I was friends with Judy Murray, and one day, when I was about twenty one, she asked

“Would you like to go to Stirling to hit with my son. He is 11.”

Judy was national coach in Scotland at the time. She thought her son needed someone else than Mom to train him. Someone to accompany him during tournaments. This son was Andy.

So you were one of the first coaches of Andy Murray?

Yes, from age 12 to 17. Even when he left for Spain, for the Sanchez Casal Academy, I was still working with him. We stopped just after his victory at the US Open juniors (in 2004). I was with him when he won the Orange Bowl (12 years and under, in 1999). This was my first trip with him; in Miami, during four weeks, we learned to know each other. I was his coach but I was also doing his laundry, I washed his socks, I prepared his meals… After Andy, I did not do anything for a few months before accepting my first job at the LTA (the British Federation). I had to supervise coaches and players in Scotland. And I had the responsibility of the British under 14. Then I worked with juniors. It was great because in 2005-2006, there were people like Paul Annacone (former coach among others of Pete Sampras, Tim Henman, Roger Federer…) working for the LTA. I spent a lot of time with Paul and learned a lot.

But how did you become Davis Cup captain?

In 2010, John Lloyd had just finished his term as captain. And then I got a phone call from one of the LTA bosses.

“Would you be the next captain?” They told me. “Hmm, me?”, I replied. It seemed super weird and I hung up, saying, “No thank you. You should find someone else.”

I even gave them a list of names. But then insisted (laughs). I accepted, knowing people would cringe. I would be criticized for months. I was ready for that.

Have you been criticized as you expected it?

Yes. The first two weeks, it’s been difficult. I remember one day I was driving and my father called to ask me: “Are you okay? Do you feel good?” As I did not understand why he asked me this, he said, “You, you did not read the papers. You better take a look.” I did. And it was embarassing.

“How could they get this guy? He has never coached at a high level, never played at a high level.”

But they were right! It was up to me to show what I was capable of. I started travelling. I went everywhere with Andy of course, but also on the Challenger tour with James Ward and Daniel Evans, where I served as their coach because they had no money to pay one. I took young coaches with me and we all grew up together.

In 2010, you start against Turkey

We were in Third Division. No matter against which team you win, you win and things take shape. We beat Turkey, Tunisia, Luxembourg and Hungary to reach Division Two. In 2012, we missed the lift to the World Group against Belgium, but not the following year against the Russians, without Andy. Suddenly people took us seriously. When we played Tunisia in Bolton in 2010, there was no TV broadcast of the tie. To debrief the match I had one amateur video. Today, interest in the Davis Cup is undeniable.

The involvment of Andy Murray had to play a lot…

Of course, he is really concerned. His dedication drives the other players but also the entire nation. We are a united team. We dine quite often together, we were almost all at Andy’s wedding (in April). He is also the first to encourage his teammates. At Roland Garros he came in the stands to support Kyle Edmund in the qualifyings and in the first round.

Jamie and Andy Murray

The Murray brothers fought back from a set down to beat Nicolas Mahut and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 4-6 6-3 7-6 6-1. It was another strange choice by French Davis Cup captain Arnaud Clément to select Mahut and Tsonga who had never played together before, whereas Tsonga and Gasquet are undefeated in Davis Cup. Or why not select Herbert and Mahut who play regularly on the tour together and were finalists at the Australian Open earlier in the year.

Jamie Murray:

“To go out there, play with your brother for your country and to have Leon on the bench who has been a big part of our tennis careers from a young age, it was really special. It was a magic day. Hopefully it puts us in a good position for tomorrow and we will do our best to try to get to three points.”

Andy Murray is expected to win over Gilles Simon (or Richard Gasquet?) and propel Great Britain into the Davis Cup semifinals for the first time in 34 years.

France Davis Cup team

British Davis Cup team

Andy and Jamie Murray vs Tsonga and Mahut
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Andy Murray

Following James Ward loss to Gilles Simon earlier in the day, this match was a must-win for Andy Murray.

For whatever reason French Davis Cup captain Arnaud Clément decided to sit recent Wimbledon semifinalist Richard Gasquet for day 1, and after two tight sets, Murray beat Tsonga quite comfortably 7-5 7-6(10) 6-2 and drew level with France at 1-1.

Andy Murray:

The crowd was great, especially at the important moments. I was happy with the job that I did today. I don’t feel like I played amazing, but I played some good shots at important times

Saturday’s doubles rubber will be crucial: Dominic Inglot and Jamie Murray will take on Richard Gasquet and Nicolas Mahut.

Murray fans

Andy Murray
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Gilles Simon

Less than a week after Wimbledon, the Queen’s Club hosts the Davis Cup quarterfinal between Great Britain and France. The winner will face Kazakhstan or Australia in the semifinals in September. With 3 top 20 in their team and a doubles specialist, France is the huge favorite, but in Davis Cup you never know what might happen.

Last March, James Ward pulled off the biggest win of his career, beating John Isner in a marathon 6-7 5-7 6-3 7-6 15-13 match in the Davis Cup first round tie against USA. But this time, he didn’t cause recent Wimbledon quarterfinalist Gilles Simon too many problems. Simon wins in straight sets 6-4 6-4 6-1 in under two hours, and that’s 1-0 for France.

Leon Smith and James Ward

James Ward and Gilles Simon

Gilles Simon and Arnaud Clément
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Ashe vs Connors, Wimbledon 1975

From Jimmy Connors’ autobiography, The Outsider:

Two days before the start of Wimbleon in 1975, I picked up a newspaper and turned straight to the sports section. The headline read: Connors sues Ashe.

I’m in the middle of a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Jack Kramer, Donald Dell, and the ATP, and here I am launching a new one. I discovered that Riordan (Connors’ manager) had filed two lawsuits in Indianapolis, claiming damages of $5 million in total for libelous comments that had apparently been directed at us. The first concerned a letter written by Arthur Ashe, as ATP president, in which he referred to me as “unpatriotic.” The second complaint ran along the same lines, originating in an article written by Bob Briner, the ATP’s secretary. He supposedly called Riordan a “nihilist”. Is that even an insult?

Chasing a drop shot early in my first-round match on the damp grass of Centre Court, I slipped and hyperextended my knee. I didn’t think much about it at the time; I carried on playing and won 6-2 6-3 6-1. But once the adrenaline rush of my first Wimbledon title defense was over, all that changed. I felt a degree of pain that I had never experienced before.
I thought I would be OK after some rest, but when I woke up the next morning, the pain had intensified; my knee was completely swollen and unable to support my weight. I needed to get it checked out. I got in touch with Bill and he found me the top physiotherapist at Chelsea Football Club, one of England’s leading soccer teams, which had the facilities to treat this kind of injury. After they examined me, it turned out I had a couple of hairline fractures in my shin – painful but treatable.
The physiotherapist’s advice was simple: rest. The timing could not have been worse. There were only two tournaments that I would have even considered playing while badly injured: Wimbledon and the US Open. As Pancho always told me, once you walk out there, be prepared to play, or don’t walk out there. Well, I thought I was ready. The physiotherapist wrapped up my leg and off I went to practice. I knew that once I was on the court, I would forget about the medical warnings.

After every match I won in those two weeks, I would immediately go for an intensive treatment of ultrasound, ice, and massage – and I wasn’t above taking a fistful of painkilllers, either. I kept the injury as secret as I could, refusing to wear even an Ace bandage; I wasn’t going to give anyone an edge.

I advanced to the final without losing a set, but 24 hours before my showdown with Ashe, the physio warned me once again to take it easy; he was afraid the fractures were getting worse. So why did I continue to play? Because I’m an idiot. I did decide to take the day off before the final, though.

By match time the next day, I’m ready to go. I start off steadily, but I can’t find my rhythm; I’m sluggish and Ashe is playing perfect tennis. I lose the first two sets easily 6-1 6-1, and now I’m getting desperate. Funny how things happen when you’re on the brink; a shot here, a lucky break there, and I win the third set 7-5. I go up a service break early in the fourth set and I’m starting to feel like I have the momentum, but that doesn’t last long. My shots lack pace; the catch the tape and fall backward. The recovery I think I’ve engineered turns out to be a figment of my imagination. Ashe comes back strong to win the set, match, and the Wimbledon title.

After his victory, Ashe turned to the crowd and raised his fist in triumph. He was a popular winner – and he was playing for black America, as well as representing all the members of the ATP. He deserved to revel in his moment. Arthur’s game was flawless that day; he had figured out the play to play me. By reducing the speed and length of his shots, he constantly brought me into the net before passing or lobbing me. […]

Ashe didn’t like me. He resented all the money I was making from my Challenge Matches, on the grounds that they would diminish the prestige of the Grand Slams. And he didn’t appreciate my attitude towards the Davis Cup. As for how he felt about Riordan’s multiple lawsuits, well, we never talked about that. Arthur didn’t have the balls to confront me; instead, he left a note in my locker at Wimbledon outlining his position.
Well, that speaks volumes, doesn’t it? All he had to do was come up and talk to me face to face, man to man, but he chose not to. It annoyed me, but not so much as when he walked out on to Centre Court wearing his Davis Cup jacket, with USA emblazoned across his chest.

In 1974, probably 90 percent of the fans at Wimbledon had been rooting for Ken Rosewall. In 1975, you guessed it, 90 percent of the fans were rooting for Arthur Ashe. What’s a guy gotta do to win friends around here? It took me a few more years to find out the answer to that question.