Davis Cup: Leon Smith inspires Britain to dream of glamour draw


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The Independent Online

Step aside Sebo Kiss, Laurent Bram, Ergun Zorlu and Sami Ghorbel. Step forward Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro. After three years fighting their way past some of the Davis Cup’s more obscure opposition, Britain are back in the World Group next year for the first time since 2008.

Following their victory over Croatia in Umag on Sunday, Leon Smith’s team will learn their opponents tomorrow in the draw for the World Group. There are some enticing clashes in prospect, especially given some of the unlikely opponents Britain have taken on in the last three years.

En route to their return to the top division Britain have faced Kiss, a  27-year-old Hungarian who had played only two tournaments in three years, Bram, a club coach from Luxembourg who was beaten 6-0,  6-0, 6-0 by Andy Murray, Zorlu, a Turkish student who rarely competed outside his own country and Ghorbel, a 19-year-old Tunisian without a world ranking.

That was the price Britain had paid for losing five ties in a row before Smith’s appointment as captain three years ago. However, after seven wins in their eight ties, Smith’s team can look forward to encounters that might  capture the public’s imagination in the way those involving Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski did in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Smith believes the present crop of players, led by Murray, could do even better than Henman and Rusedski, who never actually won a tie in the World Group. Britain’s last victory in the top flight was 27 years ago.

“Andy is the best British player there’s ever been,” Smith said. “Just him going on court and winning matches as he does creates an amazing feeling and everyone should aspire towards it.  World Group tennis is what everyone has wanted for a long time. I remember those classic ties. That’s what everyone wants to see.”

First-round winners go into a  quarter-final in March (the semi- finals are in September and the final in November), while the losers face a September play-off to stay in the World Group. “You want one you can win,” Smith said. “A home tie really helps.”

While Murray’s participation,  after an absence of two years, was crucial against Croatia, much of the credit for Britain’s progress must go to Smith. Murray’s former junior coach, who  is also head of men’s tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, was  an unlikely choice, but he has  impressed with the way he has got on with it.

“There’s not just one magic secret he’s got,” Colin Fleming, Britain’s highest ranked doubles player, said. “He’s meticulous.  I think we had scout reports on just about every Croatia player there is, singles and doubles.

“Nothing is left unplanned. It’s no  accident that it’s a really good team atmosphere here,” Fleming added.

Davis Cup draw: potential opponents

Britain will play one of eight seeds between 31 January 31 and 2 February next year. Home advantage goes to the team who were away when the countries last met.

1 Czech Republic (Britain at home)

Reigning champions and in this year’s final. Rely heavily on Berdych and Stepanek. Difficulty rating: 4/5

2 Spain (away)

An away tie on clay against Nadal and Ferrer would be an almost impossible challenge. 5

3 Serbia (Britain away)

Champions in 2010 and in this year’s final. With Djokovic and Tipsarevic they are formidable. 5

4 Argentina (home)

Semi-finals or better for the last four years, but lack strength in depth with just Del Potro. 3

5 France (home)

Plenty of options, but Murray has an excellent record against French opposition. 3

6 United States (away)

Bryan brothers in doubles are often their trump card but Isner and Querrey will struggle to cope with Murray in the singles. 4

7 Canada (away)

Made this year’s semi-finals. Raonic is their major threat, but do not have great strength in depth. 3

8 Kazakhstan (home advantage to be decided by lots)

Did well to keep World Group place as they have no top-100 players. The weakest link. 2