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Leon Smith is Britain’s Davis Cup Hero, Not Andy Murray

Andy Murray may have won GB the Davis Cup this year, but it is Captain Leon Smith who has been the one constant over the last five years.

The bagpipes have been packed away and the champagne has dried up. Over one week since Dunblane’s Great Britain’s Davis Cup final victory over Belgium and it’s clear that Andy Murray has reaped the spotlight.

And deservedly so. Murray won every singles match he played this year, gaining eight points for Great Britain across the four matches, as well as partnering older brother Jamie and winning the vital doubles against France, Australia and Belgium.

However, Andy Murray has not always been there for Leon Smith’s GB side. In the aftermath of Ghent a lot has been made about teamwork and unity. These two characteristics should be the lasting legacy of Captain Smith’s tenure when he eventually leaves the helm.

Teamwork has been a constant during his reign, no more prevalent than in the Murray-less era of Team GB. When Smith took over, Great Britain were in danger of tumbling into the lowest rung of Davis Cup tennis alongside the likes of San Marino, Iceland and Malta. He would have to battle his team back from the brink – without Andy Murray.

In five years it was Leon Smith who was the ever-present – not Murray. It was Smith who carried the team to the great height that it has reached today. So let’s reflect on some of Captain Smith’s more important results without Andy.

Great Britain 5-0 Turkey – 9-11 July 2010 (Europe/Africa Zone Group II – Relegation Play-offs)

In any sporting managerial tenure a strong start is always desirable – especially in a match of such importance.
When Leon Smith took over, Britain had lost five on the spin, to Argentina, Austria, Ukraine, Poland and Lithuania. The final loss against Lithuania placed GB in a precarious position teetering on the edge of sporting embarrassment.

So with Andy Murray unable to play it was up to the team of James Ward, Jamie Baker, Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski to tackle the Turks at Eastbourne.

Baker had just one Davis Cup win in four matches before this clash but turned in two outstanding performance to win both his singles legs against Ergun Zorla and Tuna Altuna.

James Ward was, at that time, less experienced than Baker but was also able to win both of his legs against Zorla and, a more recognizable name in Marsel Ilhan.

The match itself was all wrapped up by the Saturday though, as Colin Fleming and Ken Skupski ended the tie in clinical fashion.

Not necessarily the most testing of starts for Captain Smith but a match which, a few months earlier, would never have been so simple. It was absolutely necessary for him to get off to a winning start to keep Britain out of the Davis Cup doldrums.

Great Britain 3-2 Slovakia – 10-12 February 2012 (Europe/Africa Zone Group I – First-Round)

The first real test of Leon Smith’s tenure. A team with Martin Klizan and Lukas Lacko as the singles players was always going to be a tricky fixture.

After spending 2011 comfortably climbing out of Europe/Africa Zone Group II against sub-standard opposition, Smith was truly up against it. To make matter worse, he was without Andy Murray for the tie after the Brit was still reeling from his Australian Open final defeat to Novak Djokovic.

So it was left to the all-too-familiar faces of James Ward and Daniel Evans alongside doubles specialists Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins.

The first day saw the best of the frustratingly talented Evans who comfortably defeated Lacko. In the second leg a spirited James Ward wasn’t able to overcome Martin Klizan leaving it all tied going into the Saturday.

If this year’s Davis Cup has taught us anything, it’s the importance of the doubles tie. This is something that Leon Smith has championed from early in on and once again it proved instrumental against Slovakia, Fleming and Hutchins coming through in four sets.

Glasgow was a happy hunting ground for James Ward this year when he caused a huge upset by defeating John Isner. However he had a torrid time back in 2012, losing comfortably to Lacko to mean that the tie would come down to Evans and Klizan.

Despite a spirited fightback from Klizan, Evans did eventually come through in five sets to put his name on the Davis Cup map and push Britain closer to promotion.

Great Britain 3-2 Russia – 5-7 April 2013 (Europe/Africa Zone Group I – Second Round)

Evans heroics in the first round the previous year meant that Britain received a bye to the second round and also meant they had a straight shoot-out for a first return to the World Group Play-Offs in five years.

Once again it was left to the singles prowess of Dan Evans and James Ward whilst Colin Fleming was joined for the Saturday doubles by Jonathan Marray. Three out of the four players from Slovakia – could they repeat the result?

Well it didn’t start well. Friday was, well, a disaster. Maybe disaster is a bit unfair. Evans and Ward lost their singles to Dmitry Tursunov and Evgeny Donskoy respectively – both in five sets. Whilst Evans more than matched the veteran Tursunov, Ward was hugely disappointed to squander a two-sets-to-love lead against Donskoy.

The last time Britain had recovered from 2-0 down in a Davis Cup tie was a mild 83 years ago so the odds were heavily stacked against them. Fleming and Marray did give a glimmer of hope with an extremely comfortable victory in the doubles.

The result that swung the match came in the fourth tie, with Ward recovering from two sets to one down to defeat Tursunov, swinging the tie heavily in Britain’s favour. The miraculous comeback was completed by Evans who outclassed a jaded Donskoy.

Who needs Andy Murray? Captain Leon Smith is the real hero of the Britain’s Davis Cup adventure.

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