Andy Murray's pal clocks on as new Davis Cup boss serves up blueprint

Given the woeful state of the men’s game in Britain you might have thought that the enormously wealthy Lawn Tennis Association would scour the world for someone to put things right.

Such is the state of the rankings, that the ideal candidate would need the drive and experience of Nick Bollettieri, the nous of Brad Gilbert, the track record of Toni Nadal and the touch of genius you might find inside the head of Roger Federer.

Instead, the new Davis Cup captain and head of men’s tennis at the LTA is a 34-year-old Scot who has barely coached anyone at senior level and did not play professionally.

Out on his own: Andy Murray is streets ahead of his nearest British rival

Out on his own: Andy Murray is streets ahead of his nearest British rival

But in his undemonstrative way, Leon Smith is determined this will not prove to be another clanger.

Given that so many of a higher profile have failed to solve the complex problems facing the British game, his is more a back-to-basics appointment, and he does not have much time to fashion an improvement.

In the week after Wimbledon the country faces an awkward Davis Cup tie against Turkey, in which defeat would consign GB to the basement of the sport’s premier team competition, to play the likes of Albania.

In his first interview since coming into the job, the Glaswegian maintains he is undaunted by what lies ahead. He does not shy away from the realities beyond Andy Murray, whom he coached for seven years as a teenager, and does not promise quick fixes.

Head boy: Leon Smith has set out a bold plan for the future of British tennis

Head boy: Leon Smith has set out a bold plan for the future of British tennis

‘We are really disappointed with the men’s rankings,’ he admits (he could hardly do otherwise). ‘There is not enough depth.

'Not only are there not enough players in the top 200 (only Murray and Alex Bogdanovic, 156, reside there), there aren’t enough ranked from 200 to 300. And we’ve got virtually nobody playing singles aged 26 or over.’

Smith was given the Davis Cup job ahead of Greg Rusedski, having worked inside the LTA for six years, almost exclusively with younger age groups. In football parlance, it is a bit like the head of the youth academy being promoted to manager.

He appears to have a scientific take on addressing problems.

‘When you look at trends in the men’s game the average age of players breaking into the top 100 is now nearly 24,’ he says. ‘It is taking longer so we have to keep more players in the game.’

Smith’s claim to fame is his work with Murray, and the smart aspect of his elevation is his knowledge of the junior generation. While few look to be world-beaters, there is definitely encouraging promise there and it is on them that the LTA are pinning their hopes of redemption.

‘We have a group of players in the ages 15-20 whose results are quite good in international terms. A few could be more professional but most are working well.

'I don’t want just to give handouts, so we are working on a system of  incentivising players who perform in tournaments.’

Murray, while speaking warmly of Smith, wished to distance himself from his promotion to avoid insinuations that he had influenced the appointment.

Old friends: Smith (left) with Murray at the French Open in 2006

Old friends: Smith (left) with Murray at the French Open in 2006

Of his lack of ATP Tour credentials Smith says: ‘I knew that was going to be out there, but I’ve worked hard to learn and to move up in coaching. With Andy, it is more to do with him being under so much scrutiny that he doesn’t want even more responsibility heaped upon him.

‘I know I will get his support and he is someone whose work ethic we hold up as an example to youngsters.’

Murray has, he insists, given no indication about his Davis Cup intentions but he and Smith are close and recently attended a Fulham match at Craven Cottage together.

‘Working with Andy taught me a lot. My best memory is of him when he was 17 and playing in the Wimbledon juniors after six months out with a knee injury.

'He lost early on and we went to a small tournament in Spain. It was 90 degrees and it would have been easy not to give it everything but he fought through five rounds and won it. You knew he was going to be a player.’

What he would give to unearth a few more like that.