EXCLUSIVE – British Davis Cup captain Leon Smith recalls sitting next to Judy Murray as her son won Wimbledon

Kevin Palmer
Leon Smith Great Britain Davis Cup captain

Tennis365.com sat down for an extensive interview with 2015 British Davis Cup winning captain Leon Smith and in this segment, we look at his own attempts to make a break as a tennis player, his move into coaching with a young Andy Murray and sitting next to Judy Monday on the day her son won Wimbledon.

Looking back at your early days in tennis, did you always think you could have a career in the sport?

“I mean I got into tennis as I moved in across the road to a tennis club. My parents weren’t into tennis at all, never played, there was no interest in it but we moved across from a tennis club. I had an older brother and a younger brother and we ended up just taking it up, and that’s how I got into tennis. I ended up really enjoying it and because I lived across the road I started playing a lot. You know every day, hours on end, and probably as a teenager, you know, I was ok. I was always one of the better ones in Scotland.”

Did you ever think you could be a tennis pro?

“No chance. I would go down south to England and play nationals and lose early in nationals, so I was good but not, I wasn’t great and it was quite clear by the time I got to late teens, coming out of juniors, that I was certainly never, ever of thought to be a pro player. I didn’t have the necessary academics to do that so I went into coaching and I’m glad I did. I started in grassroots coaching, around the west of Scotland, working with beginners starting mini tennis, adults. Whatever it was I enjoyed it. I got some good opportunities that allowed me to start working with better players, starting at county level players. A few of them moved on as some of them started to do well nationally. Then, I got a few opportunities after that.”

EXCLUSIVE – Leon Smith reflects on coaching Andy Murray and the role of the inspirational Judy Murray

Describe the tennis scene in Scotland when you made your move into coaching.

“It was a brilliant, brilliant environment. Clearly we didn’t have a lot of role models to look at and see around you or to look at the professional game, but it was a very, very healthy tennis scene. Really healthy. The tennis clubs were thriving. It was a great place to be. Membership levels were excellent. and listened actually to a couple of podcasts during lockdown as people were doing so many of them and I was listening to Jamie Murray and Colin Fleming do one and they were reminiscing about that Scottish scene. What they had was an amazing competition scene.”

How important is it to play against a variety of different people when you are coming through the tennis ranks?

“I think it’s really important for the kids growing up that they get that opportunity to play in club tennis, county tennis. You learn a lot and also if you only play in your own age group the whole time, which I think people tend to do a bit, you’re also not interacting with people older than you. I used to, it sounds so stupid, things like as a teenager going to the match tea afterwards. You have to sit and engage in conversation with older adults and hold your own, take a bit of stick as well. You know, it’s all part of the process I think.”

Have there been tough times on your tennis coaching journey?

“After I finished working with Andy Murray, I had a difficult time. I actually moved in with my now wife’s parents and yeah, I was signing on for a while down the job centre, waiting for opportunities, and eventually I saw an opportunity which the LTA has advertised based for a job in Scotland, to oversea ten to 14 year olds which seemed like a good one to go for as I’d gone through that journey with Andy for six, seven years. I went for the job and I actually didn’t get it. I went for an interview down at Queen’s Club when they were based there and didn’t get it. They offered it to someone more experienced that was based in Scotland. They actually turned it down for whatever reason so then they came back and asked me if I would do it and that’s when my journey with the LTA started, in that role.”

Given your own story coaching a young Andy Murray, how did it feel to be sat next to Judy when her son won Wimbledon for the first time in 2013?

“When he won Wimbledon that was amazing, and what a privileged situation that I get to watch and sit beside Judy for that moment. I can’t imagine what it must have felt like for her, going through that, I can’t, I can’t. It was immense, immense pride, joy, relief. Knowing what Andy had put into this whole journey, to see that unfold was one of the most amazing moments ever. To be even a small part of it was amazing, absolutely incredible.”

Do the LTA get the credit they deserve for the work they do to boost tennis in the UK?

“I think it’s not about credit because it’s not why we’re there. The LTA won’t get plaudits when things go great but equally it gets a knocking when things don’t go well, and it seems to be the nature of the beast. When everyone’s more positive, whether it’s us at the LTA or whether it’s players, coaches, media, when people are talking up British tennis better things happen. More people get interested in the sport, more people take up the sport, more people watch the sport. There’s a lot of good people at the LTA trying very hard and we really want to get to the point where everyone feels in it together.”

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer.

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