“I was part of the tie when we lost away to Lithuania in Group Two, and that proved to be John Lloyd’s last match as captain.
Then, Leon came in and we played Turkey in Eastbourne. The pressure was on because if we had lost that, it would have been Group C, which is a totally different format, and not where we would want to be at all. The tie went really well, we won 5-0, then next up we played Tunisia in Bolton, and I remember Leon doing a presentation to the guys in the team hotel.
The main theme was that we were on a journey back to the World Group. At the time, it seemed quite ambitious and optimistic, but it has proven to be a reality. Andy coming back on board has been a key thing. It makes a huge difference having him there, but it is amazing the journey from those days. It would be unbelievable to end it by winning the Davis Cup.
Obviously, the team struggled for a while without Andy. There is no doubt about it, but it gave certain people a real chance to step up and play. Over the years, a few people have proven themselves in this arena. James Ward, obviously, while Dan Evans had some amazing Davis Cup results too.”
A look at Team GB’s journey from World II group to Davis Cup final:
Andy Murray: “A fantastic challenge I’m looking forward to in 2014 is representing Great Britain in the World Group of Davis Cup. We played a great match in Umag, Croatia, in September to gain promotion. There is a great sense of togetherness in the British camp. A lot of good people work for the game in this country at so many different levels and the Davis Cup is an opportunity for us all to show what it means to represent Britain. The sense is different from when you are out there on your own. I know I have the support from my box – that’s a given – but this is right there, in your face, the whole time.”
1st round: GREAT BRITAIN – USA 3-1, San Diego, clay
After Andy Murray‘s routine win over Donald Young, British number 2 James Ward caused a big surprise by defeating former top 20 Sam Querrey in five sets. Bob and Mike Bryan kept the US hope alive, but Murray finished the job to put Great Britain into the quarterfinals for the first time since 1986. It is also the first time Britain have beaten the USA since 1935!
Andy Murray defeats Donald Young 6-1 6-2 6-3
James Ward defeats Sam Querrey 1-6 7-6 3-6 6-4 6-1
Bob and Mike Bryan defeat Colin Fleming/Dominic Inglot 6-2 6-3 3-6 6-1
Andy Murray defeats Sam Querrey 7-6 6-7 6-1 6-3
GROUP I EUROPE/AFRICA 2ND ROUND: GREAT BRITAIN – RUSSIA 3-2, Coventry, hard
It was surprisingly the first time Great Britain and Russia met in Davis Cup and it surely was a tie to remember! Brits overturned a 0-2 deficit for the first time since 1930 to clich an historic 3-2 victory over Russia.
“On the practice court on Sunday morning, there was no doubt in our minds we could do this. I’m so proud of the whole team. James’s was a hell of an effort to come back, then Dan came in and he bossed that match. I think it’s one of the best days I’ve seen in British tennis.”
“Earlier this year against Russia in Coventry, Dan Evans and James Ward recovered from a couple of body-blow defeats on the first day and responded with victories over Dmity Tursunov and Evgeny Donskoy, players who are ranked much higher than them. A lot of this is down to Leon’s sound captaincy. He has this ability to say the right thing at the right time, to quietly analyse a match and he doesn’t complicate things.”
Dmitry Tursunov defeats Dan Evans 6-4 6-7 6-4 5-7 6-4
Evgeny Donskoy defeats James Ward 4-6 4-6 7-5 6-3 8-6
Colin Fleming/Jonathan Marray defeat Victor Baluda/Igor Kunitsyn 6-1 6-4 6-2
James Ward defeats Dmitry Tursunov 6-4 5-7 5-7 6-4 6-4
Dan Evans defeats Evgeny Donskoy 6-4 6-4 6-1
Great Britain’s journey to the Davis Cup final started 5 years ago after a devastating loss to Lithuania.
GROUP II EUROPE/AFRICA 1ST ROUND: LITHUANIA-GREAT BRITAIN, Vilnius, hard
A new low for British tennis, as the Davis Cup team suffered an embarrassing loss to Lithuania who had just three world-ranked players. Despite holding a 2-1 lead going into the Sunday’s action, James Ward and Dan Evans both lost their reverse singles. Grigelis, ranked 269 places below Evans and who had never played on the ATP tour, won the deciding rubber.
Andy Murray had withdrawn from the tie, so young players could gain international experience:
“It think it’s been 10 years or something since a British player outside myself, Tim (Henman) and Greg (Rusedski) won a live Davis Cup rubber. It’s time for the guys to get used to winning in the Davis Cup, rather than having so much pressure on them every time they play.”
John Lloyd, who lost 8 of the last 11 ties as a captain, resigned shortly after the tie:
“I am very proud of my time as Davis Cup captain and grateful to all the players for their support. I’ve been a Davis Cup player, captain and now it is time to become a fan.”
James Ward defeats Laurynas Grigelis 6-4 6-2 6-4
Ricardas Berankis defeats Dan Evans 6-1 4-6 7-6(5) 3-6 6-3
Colin Fleming/Ken Skupski defeat Laurynas Grigelis/Dovydas Sakinis 6-0 6-7 7-5 6-3
Ricardas Berankis defeats James Ward 7-6 6-3 6-4
Laurynas Grigelis defeats Dan Evans 6-7 7-5 6-0 2-6 6-4
— British Tennis (@BritishTennis) September 19, 2015
— TennisAustralia (@TennisAustralia) September 19, 2015
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.