Davis Cup captain Leon Smith was in buoyant mood yesterday as he looked forward to a Great Britain team headed by Andy Murray taking on the United States in the Davis Cup at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow next March.
The Scot reckons it will be a sporting spectacular which will keep the feelgood factor going following the success of the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.
“We’ve had great experiences at Braehead in the past,” said the Edinburgh-based Smith, who has lifted GB out of the Davis Cup doldrums during his five years in charge. “But the fact that this is a World Group match is really great for Scotland and it’s going to be even better this time. There is so much tennis south of the border and I know that Andy is delighted that the Emirates will host the event.
“Scottish tennis deserves this. There will be 7,000 spectators and the atmosphere will be amazing. You can’t get much bigger than a match against the USA with Jim Courier as the Captain and such as John Isner, Sam Queerey and the Bryan brothers.
“Davis Cup is one of the biggest events in tennis and so very different from other events. It’s not just about balls being hit. The crowd interaction adds so much energy and playing at home will make such a tremendous difference.”
Smith and Murray go back a long way. Back in the mid-1990s one was an up-and-coming Scottish coach and the other was a Wimbledon champion in the making. “Judy [Andy’s Mum] asked me to come in to help so that he could hit with someone nearer his own age,” Smith reflected. “We used to do sessions before and after school at Stirling and I’m very proud to have been part of it all.”
Aside from his relationship with the Murrays, Smith has fond memories of major events in Scotland. Sitting in the lounge overlooking the outdoor court at Craiglockhart, he recalled acting as a ball boy for McEnroe and Connors in the 1980s. “When I was about ten or 11, they held a big event here as a warm-up for the grass court season. It was great to see my role models playing live. The Emirates offers another great chance to showcase tennis.”
In the same first-round tie that was staged in San Diego last year, the Aegon GB team beat a US line-up that was without an injured Isner and managed to qualify for the Davis Cup quarter-finals.
Smith is well aware that Courier and Co will be out for revenge. “This is such an important tie,” he said. “If we win then it guarantees another year in the World Group.”
As for Murray, Smith reckons the two-times major winner is set for a stunning 2015. “He had a major operation on his back but has diligently worked his way back,” said the Cup skipper. “It’s looking really good for him next year.”
It was thanks to a brutal end of season six-week run – three ATP titles and 20 wins from 22 matches – that the Dunblane man earned a place in next week’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena. “I know Andy is going into London thinking he can win,” added Smith.
Now climbing back up the rankings and currently at No 6 in the world, Murray took a break from his O2 preparations to comment: “I’m really excited about coming to Glasgow to play in a World Group tie. It’s going to be a huge week for our team and I’m looking forward to being able to play in front of a home crowd. I played Davis Cup in Glasgow a few years ago where we received incredible support, but this is a World Group tie so it’s a massive deal and we’ll be doing everything we can to get the win.”
Smith, who is also head coach of men’s tennis for the LTA and is working alongside the legendary Australian Bob Brett, really hopes that the 6-8 March Davis Cup date with the Americans could be the stimulus to more world-class tennis events in Scotland.
“The Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup were terrific and this is another opportunity for Scotland to show off sport,” he said. “And it doesn’t have to stop at the Davis Cup. There could be exhibitions or another major tournament.”
l Tickets for the GB v US clash will go on general sale from Tuesday 25 November. The winners from the Emirates will face either France or Germany in the quarter-finals.