Leon Smith, Britain’s Davis Cup captain and the head of men’s tennis at the Lawn Tennis Association, believes that Andy Murray’s Wimbledon triumph will inspire “thousands and thousands” of young people to take up the sport. The 26-year-old Scot’s success could not have come at a better time for the LTA, which has been roundly criticised over the last year for the declining numbers of people playing the sport.
The interest in Murray was underlined yesterday when the BBC announced that the viewing figures for his final against Novak Djokovic on Sunday had peaked at 17.3 million. It was the highest Wimbledon TV audience for 23 years and the highest figure to watch any programme on any BBC channel this year.
“The TV viewing figures were absolutely phenomenal,” Smith said. “So many people who watched that final will be inspired to pick up a racket. There will be kids playing everywhere. My own son does as well. He absolutely loves Andy Murray. All he wants to do is play tennis now. And it’s all because of Andy. Kids just want to watch him.
“I think Andy will make people pick up a tennis racket and go and find a court, but the job now for British tennis – whether it’s the LTA, parks, schools or clubs – and for the all-important people on the ground is to make them keep playing tennis. We want people to carry on playing, not just for the summer and not just on the back of this.”
One hope for the LTA is that Murray’s success will dispel the idea that Britain is a nation of tennis losers. Despite the torrent of criticism of Roger Draper, the LTA’s outgoing chief executive, the fact is that during his reign British players have enjoyed regular success.
There have been three recent British Wimbledon champions – Murray’s brother Jamie won the mixed doubles title and Jonny Marray was men’s doubles champion last year – while Laura Robson, Heather Watson and Oliver Golding have all won junior Grand Slam titles. Britain’s boys have won the junior Davis Cup, while Watson became the first British woman to win a main tour title for 24 years.
“I think people will look at tennis now and, in particular, will look at Andy Murray and see a winner,” Smith said. “People like winners and I think as a country we can be very proud of Andy. I think when you get in the back of a cab now you’ll hear the driver say: ‘Andy is a champion’. Too many times in the past some people saw our players – quite often very unfairly – as also-rans who couldn’t get over the line. Well Andy has got over the line and he did it in style. I think the whole nation will see tennis as something that we’re good at.”
What Britain has not been good at recently is producing more strength in depth among the men. Murray is currently the only British man ranked in the world’s top 250. Smith believes that is partly down to the fact that not enough people play the sport.
“It is a numbers game, but that’s not to say we can’t do a really good job with the players that are showing good potential,” Smith said.
“You look at the likes of Oliver Golding or Liam Broady and now Kyle Edmund, or youngsters like Luke Bambridge, Jonny O’Mara and Evan Hoyt. There are a lot of good juniors and good young players out there.
“It’s all about converting them as best we can. But of course if we can get thousands and thousands more kids playing tennis the talent pool will grow. Then natural selection can take place, which is even better. That’s very much what we have to build towards.”
Smith believes that the burden for encouraging more people to play the game should not fall solely on the LTA. “Look at other countries, like France,” Smith said. “The federation is involved, but I also look at the work of the local authorities and the clubs. They all play a massive part.
“The LTA can’t do everything. It can certainly support activity, but that activity needs to be driven as well by the clubs, the schools, the parks, the local authorities as well. They all need to get behind British sport and not just tennis.”
As Murray’s coach for six years from the age of 11, Smith took particular pride in the Scot’s Wimbledon success. “When I think back to those days I think it would have been very difficult to imagine that any moment like this could ever possibly happen, but what I did know when he was a youngster was that he kept winning things,” Smith said.
“That was a pretty good sign. He kept winning all the major junior international events, culminating in winning the US Open juniors.
“Having said that, to make the transition from junior tennis to reach the absolute peak of the sport is another story. He’s a wonderful role model for all the kids who are going to take up tennis on the back of this and the ones that are already playing.”Reuse content