First we had the answer to the annually asked question of ‘When will we have a British Wimbledon Champion?’ in July 2014 and now we have an answer to British success in the Davis Cup! British tennis is buzzing with a positive vibe felt by many across the country and the hope that this success will propel us out of the shadows we’ve been in for many years.
What Team GB achieved in the Davis Cup was something quite remarkable after only being in the Europe/Africa Zone Group 2 in 2010 with a play-off match against Turkey which decided whether they would be demoted to the bottom level of the competition. At this time, reaching the final like they did in 1978 or even going one step further like they did in 1936 where they won would have seemed a million miles away. A lot has changed since 1936 and other countries have overtaken Britain in the sporting arena, but it takes one or two exceptionally great players to change a nation’s fortune.
What the LTA did back in 2010 when they appointed Leon Smith as the Davis Cup captain was a very smart move. By appointing Leon, Britain were able to write the tennis fairy-tale where Andy gets to play for his coach from his ‘junior days’ and share the journey with his brother. Many know that Leon worked with Andy Murray when he was 11 years old and again worked with him when he returned from the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona, but that relationship between the two was the key to our success. There is no denying that if Andy wasn’t playing for GB then we would still be knocking around the lower groups of Davis Cup tennis, but Andy couldn’t have done this on his own without his brother.
The nation must be very grateful that the Murray brothers represent GB and that their dedication, hardship, work rate, determination and belief has ultimately paid off so that we can celebrate the pride of being British. The demands of being a top tennis player are incredible and playing in the Davis Cup isn’t always a great reward for the players with increased matches adding to their already hectic schedules, the increased risk of injury and the lack of financial reward.
Playing for your country is a privilege and an honour, which is certainly something Andy Murray prioritises. With the negatives that surround participating in this competition, they are further expanded for a top player if they are having to travel to places to compete in the world’s 3rd division of tennis! If Britain had any chance of being a success in the competition they needed Andy Murray as with all top nations you need top 20 players in your team. At this point it is worth saying that Jamie Murray, a top doubles player in his own right, was another essential part of the puzzle as without him, those vital doubles wins would not have been possible, especially on a few occasion when he needed to carry his brother in matches.
Over the years Andy’s dedication to compete when he could, even with injury scares in certain ties, is phenomenal. Now that Andy can join Federer, Djokovic and Nadal as a Davis Cup Champion further cements his status as one of the top players in the tennis history books during what arguably is the toughest era for a male tennis player.
I’ve talked a lot about Andy Murray and his undeniable influence in the Davis Cup team but what about the others who have also contributed to our nation’s success? During this campaign I’d like to highlight James Wards outstanding performance against the US with the world number 111 beating John Isner who was ranked 20 with a tremendous fight back from a two-set disadvantage to win 6-7, 5-7. 6-3, 7-6, 15-13 in almost exactly five hours.
Another notable match was in the final when Leon played his cards right with an in-form Kyle Edmond, who is ranked 100 in the world, making his debut to the competition against the world number 15, David Goffin. The competition could have been over by Saturday as Kyle took a 2 sets to 0 lead in the first match. That exposure for the young 20 year old will hopefully give him hope and belief to go on to do better but I believe that with these players rubbing shoulders with the likes of Andy Murray they are inspired and believe they can win.
What does this victory mean for British tennis? Andy Murray told the BBC on Thursday 26th November, the day before the finals started: “This might attract new fans who can see the team and how pumped up everyone gets in a different format and different atmosphere.”
“It’s a great opportunity to promote the sport in the UK and, hopefully, if we can get the win at the weekend that would be huge for tennis.”
“But it’s not our job to capitalise on the success of the team, that’s the job of the governing body and that’s what they’ve got to do.”
Controversially David Lloyd, former GB Men’s Davis Cup Captain, criticised the top British players for not growing the game in Britain by stating: “The British players in recent years who have been good — Tim Henman, Greg Rusedski, Andy — they don’t put enough back.”
“I mean putting your heart and soul into it, a passion that is bigger than the person and even bigger than the game. “
“It’s about getting a kid who wants to play for Manchester United to want to play tennis instead. Andy is in such an incredible position with power to do that but he doesn’t.”
“I don’t think Andy does justice in presenting himself. I don’t think he goes out of his way to present the game.”
Personally I don’t think it is the sole responsibility of Andy Murray or any of the others to develop British tennis, as this is the role of the LTA, clubs and coaches in this country.
Murray dismissed the criticism as “background noise” by adding “It’s like, you know it’s there but you’re not really listening.”
“My job here is to try to win the tie, give my best effort — like me and, I believe, all of the team have done the last five years.”
“We may not get the outcome we want but it won’t be through lack of trying or lack of care.”
“It means a lot to everyone to be in this position. Five years ago we were way, way behind in this competition — I think it was the lowest position we’d ever been in, so five years later to be playing and competing in the final is a great opportunity.”
Everyone in Britain has to take responsibility for the state of our tennis. Blaming, pointing fingers or making excuses is what we have done for many years and like with the change of success for the Davis Cup team, we need to change our attitude now for a better future. If everyone looked at what they do and how they could do it better with the tenacity to keep improving over a sustained amount of period then we will be better. Even before the final we heard the pessimists saying that Federer, Djokovic and Nadal didn’t play in the competition so it’s a shallow win…or… we only have 1 player and without Murray we are nothing.
I understand where they are coming from but the other players could have played if they wanted to and most Davis Cup teams are centred around one world class player. We should be using this success to inspire our top juniors to see what British success looks and feels like and continue to grow the game with the belief that future success is dependent on the efforts we put in now.