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

Kevin Palmer
Andy Murray at Davis Cup training

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 initial days working alongside Andy Murray and his inspirational mother Judy at the start of what was to become a legendary tennis story.

When you started out in coaching, the prospect of being Davis Cup captain could not have been on your radar, so how did your journey take you to this point?

“I think everyone needs some break and mine was obviously coaching a very young Andy Murray. That comes with an association with what happened next with him, but at the same time, I’m so grateful that Judy (Murray) saw something in me to take me under her wing. It wasn’t just with Andy, it was with other Scottish kids. She gave me a job. She put me on a salary at Tennis Scotland. It was an apprenticeship and I got the most amazing learning. I got to work with all the best Scottish kids.”

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How do you reflect on your early days working as a coach with Andy?

“It was an incredible experience. I got to travel internationally to the best junior events and I got to see everything. I was very hungry, passionate, willing to learn, willing to travel. It’s one thing when you get a break but you’ve also got to make the most of it and I hope and I think I did, I think I gave everything to the people I coached in the younger years and Judy just kept giving me opportunities.”

What doors did Judy open for you?

“She was sending me with Andy to a lot of specialist coaches, environments, so as a 20-something years old tennis coach I was spending five days in Paris at Bob Brett’s academy. You can’t buy that. To work with Bob Brett as a young coach and I’m watching him work with Andy. Emilio Sanchez when we first went to Sanchez, Casals, and there were numerous opportunities that I got. But that was obviously the start of a career in the sort of performance space when I got that job with Judy and working with the Scottish kids.”

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How did your relationship with Andy develop?

“I kept working with him when he went to Spain and even when he left Spain and ended going up full time with him. We finished in around 2004, but I’d gone through an amazing journey. I was grateful and it was the right time for Andy to move on to something else definitely, and for me. But it was a strange time 2004 because I was unemployed for a few months and I ended up, I mean, I was on a low wage throughout all that time so not a dime to rub between, I had no money.”

How important has Judy Murray been in your own coaching story?

“She is amazing. You cannot underestimate what Judy’s done. It’s far, far more than just her two boys. It’s far, far more. That’s obviously an awe-inspiring story in itself, how that’s even possible. But then I saw first hand how she worked in Scotland as national coach as well, the programme that was built on an incredible small budget. When we think about the finances available now, what she did was amazing to stretch a very small budget and make it work, and bring through a lot of good players. There were so many players in that programme and all of them will talk so positively about Judy. It’s why they got into tennis, it’s why they stayed in tennis, it’s how they got good at tennis. The programme is amazing.”

Judy’s drive is remarkable and she doesn’t seem to have any intention of slowing down now.

“I would say I’ve got a good work ethic but you had to when you were around Judy. She was 24/7 on it, but made it fun, made it a great environment to be in. So enjoyable yet challenging at the same time. But then you fast forward now and she’s still the same. Everywhere, you look at the social media account and she’s everywhere. Non-stop, and it is amazing. She gets a lot of, and rightly so, a lot of plaudits and respect. You watch the episode done at Sky, Driving Force, but you listen to her story. Even though I know this story, I was still listening going ‘my god, it is amazing’. And you see the people going on and talking, whether it’s Martina Navratilova or Billie Jean King, that’s the sort of respect she’s getting from the tennis community. It’s amazing.”

In the next part of our interview with Leon Smith, he looks back on his early days as a player and the competitive Scottish environment that helped to produce two record-breaking Grand Slam champions.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer.

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