British Davis Cup team

Leon Smith: I washed Andy Murray’s socks

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.

Comments
One Response
Trackbacks
Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] the Vilnius debacle, Leon Smith was handed the captaincy and Great Britain faced Turkey in play-off, to avoid relegation to Group III – the lowest […]



Leave a comment