Leon Smith has confirmed that winning the Davis Cup is a “major goal” for Andy Murray as the world No 3-ranked player considers altering his end-of-season schedule to increase Britain’s chances of lifting the title.
Murray seems determined to give it everything he has now Smith’s side have made it to the final in November against Belgium. While it seems unlikely Murray will risk placing in jeopardy his cordial – and lucrative – relationship with the ATP Tour by withdrawing from the ATP World Tour finals in November, he was clearly of a mind to take such extreme measures.
Indeed, the very fact he admitted it was something he was considering in an interview conducted amid the elation of Sunday underlines his desperation to make the most of what could be a last chance to win such a distinguished team title as the Davis Cup.
Why such an achievement might appeal to someone who has already won two Grand Slam titles as well as an Olympic one should be obvious; it isn’t every day Britain has an opportunity to win the Davis Cup. Not since 1936, when Fred Perry and Bunny Austin were in their pomp, has Britain won the trophy, although they did finish runners-up in 1978.
It also isn’t every day you get the chance to win such a high-profile title with a member of your own family. Andy’s brother Jamie contributed enormously to the semi-final win over Australia at the weekend after they paired up to defeat Sam Groth and Lleyton Hewitt in the doubles rubber.
The result of the doubles rubber could again be pivotal in the final, with Belgium’s hopes hampered by their lack of a doubles specialist. Such a detail increases the chance that Britain could prevail. The importance Andy Murray, who shrugged off a back complaint to play all three days against Australia, appears to be attaching to this year’s Davis Cup, while pleasing, also suggests it might not figure so prominently in his list of priorities thereafter.
“I have no idea what he’ll think about next year,” said Smith, when probed on this subject in the aftermath of the weekend victory. “No one is looking past the final. It’s a massive opportunity and a huge occasion, so it’s futile to even be thinking about next year.”
Murray will sit down imminently with his team to devise a schedule that gives him the best chance of excelling in Belgium. As well as the ATP World Tour finals that he may or may not take part in, the Scot has a commitment to the Shanghai Open next month. His plane tickets have already been bought for this, he confirmed, so it is certain he will be there.
After China, there is the Paris Masters. Having already played 83 matches this year, how Murray decides to manage his schedule between now and November is a significant factor in Britain’s hopes of Davis Cup success. Smith is confident Murray will try to give himself the best chance of performing at peak level against the Belgians.
“I think the schedule between now and then is such that he can tailor it to his needs,” said the Great Britain captain. “Clearly this [the Davis Cup] is a major goal for him now. But he is a very, very good athlete. He will know his body best and know how many tournaments he can play.”
However Murray chooses to approach the next few weeks, it won’t change what has already been a remarkable run of success since a Great Britain team deprived of his talents secured their Europe/Africa Zone Group II status with a win over Turkey five years ago, shortly after Smith’s appointment as captain.
This back-from-the-brink success, preventing Britain slipping into a zone with the likes of Andorra, San Marino and Moldova, was clinched in front of a smattering of spectators in the slightly depressing seaside setting of Eastbourne. It was a far cry from the deafening noise and infectious enthusiasm of the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, where a re-born team won their tenth match in 12 Davis Cup clashes since that do-or-die outing against Turkey.
However, had Argentina beaten Belgium in the other semi- final to hand Britain a barely credible fourth home clash in a row, there was little likelihood of the final being held back in Glasgow. This is despite the obvious temptation to plug back into the seriously good vibes generated over the three days of competition at the Emirates Arena.
“I would have gone as big as possible,” said Smith, possibly confirming a rumour that the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff was one option being considered. “That is how you are going to get people grasping the game outside the grass-court season.
“There are a lot of people if it was at home would have wanted the T-shirt to say ‘I was there’, even if it was up the back somewhere,” he added. “I would have been disappointed if we couldn’t have sold a lot of tickets based on how quickly these ones went [in Glasgow].
“It would have been fitting for this team and certainly for Andy Murray to walk out in front of a massive crowd with ‘Great Britain’ on his back. He would have deserved this for what he has done every year, but this year in particular.”
Murray himself was of the opinion that Davis Cup matches should be taken around Britain. “Clearly, it’s been great in Scotland but that doesn’t mean it can’t be great somewhere else,” he said.
While Scotland is close to his heart, Murray is aware his home country cannot have the monopoly on such events. Two out of the last three rounds have been staged in Glasgow. Only one in the last ten home ties has been held in London, for example. But it could be that there will be far fewer opportunities for tennis fans to cram into venues, be they in Scotland or elsewhere in Britain, for such high-stakes Davis Cup ties in future.
Whatever happens in Belgium in November, Murray is surely within his rights if he then decides an admirable commitment to the Davis Cup in recent times is not simpatico with his remaining Grand Slam ambitions.