Murray's Davis Cup dilemma

His close friend Leon Smith is the new team captain, but World No 4 remains reluctant to commit to Britain's cause
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The Independent Online

Leon Smith, one of Andy Murray's closest friends in tennis, was named Britain's Davis Cup captain yesterday, but the world No 4 insisted here at the Monte-Carlo Masters that he had not recommended his fellow Scot for the job and that his appointment would not affect his own decisions about playing for his country.

Smith, 34, who also becomes the Lawn Tennis Association's head of men's tennis, has never played professionally and has never coached a senior player. He made his name coaching juniors – most notably Murray himself for six years from the age of 11 – and has climbed the ranks through the LTA, where he was most recently Head of Player Development.

His appointment is a result of a review conducted by Steven Martens, the LTA's player director. "Leon is 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," Martens said.

Murray, who plays his opening match in his first clay-court tournament of the year against Germany's Philipp Kohlschreiber here tomorrow, spoke to Smith about the Davis Cup vacancy caused by John Lloyd's resignation but said he had never mentioned his former coach's name when asked by Martens about the captaincy.

"I'm not taking any responsibility at all for Leon's appointment," Murray said. "I obviously need to speak to him about it as a friend more than anything because I want him to be successful. But it's a big responsibility. It's going to be tough, but if he really wants to do it and he believes in himself enough then I'm sure he can do a good job."

He added: "Leon's very young still in coaching terms and experience on the men's side of the game. He's obviously worked a lot on the junior side, but on the men's side he's inexperienced. It's a big job. He was working with the juniors and now he's head of men's tennis and Davis Cup captain. It's a huge, huge responsibility for him."

Murray chose not to play against Lithuania last month as Britain suffered a humiliating record fifth consecutive defeat. They now need to beat Turkey at Eastbourne in July to avoid relegation to Group Three of the Europe Africa Zone, the Davis Cup's lowest tier, alongside the likes of Albania, Andorra and San Marino.

Asked whether he would play against Turkey, Murray said he would decide nearer the time but added: "I still need to do what's right for me. If I want to play, I'm playing for the team. It's not that I'm playing because Leon's the captain. I hope that wasn't the reason why he became the captain. I don't think that's the way to make a decision on something as big as this."

Jamie Murray, Andy's brother, was cynical about the appointment. He said on Twitter: "Do you honestly think this will make him play? So transparent."

Smith, who plans to work with a number of assistants rather than designate a specific Davis Cup coach, said that Murray's participation would be considered on a tie-by-tie basis. "I certainly realise, like I think we all do, that he's got wider aspects of British tennis and ambitions to achieve at this point in his career," Smith said.

While acknowledging his lack of experience, Smith said that he had established a good relationship with the other British players and their coaches on the Challengers and Futures circuits. "I do think I can make a success of it," he said. "I think I can draw the best out of players."

Although Smith represented Scotland as a player, he decided on leaving school to concentrate on coaching. He quickly impressed Murray's mother, Judy, who was Scotland's national coach at the time, and remembers hitting with Andy when he was just five years old. He was Murray's coach until he was 17 and parted company only when Murray went to train at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona.

As for his own state of mind following his disappointing performances in Indian Wells and Miami, Murray said here that he had been encouraged by his recent form in practice, especially as he had had more time to train on clay this year. "I'm not too worried about the last couple of months because I've been playing well in practice, though not in the matches," he said. "I know it might take me a little bit of time, but I'll start to play well in them too."