Leon Smith buoyed by strength of Great Britain Davis Cup team

Captain Leon Smith is buoyed by the strength of his team as Great Britain prepare for their first Davis Cup campaign in two years.

By reaching the semi-finals at the inaugural finals week in Madrid in 2019, Britain secured automatic qualification for the 2020 finals, which were then postponed for 12 months.

Another change in the format, with three cities now hosting the group stages, means Britain head to Innsbruck to take on France on Saturday and the Czech Republic the following day.

Fresh from his ATP Finals debut, Cameron Norrie will spearhead the British team but Smith has three more top-25 players at his disposal in Dan Evans, Joe Salisbury and Neal Skupski – who was preferred to Jamie Murray – while Liam Broady will provide back-up.

It is a stronger line-up across the board than the team who won the title in 2015, although they are of course missing the X factor of a peak Andy Murray.

Smith told the PA news agency: “It’s such a positive having a team like this. What Cam has been doing this year is absolutely exceptional.

“Of course he wasn’t in our last squad and to go from that to being our number one player and closing in on a top-10 ranking, it’s really so impressive. Every single person respects what he’s doing.

Cameron Norrie made his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals last week
Cameron Norrie made his debut at the Nitto ATP Finals last week (Luca Bruno/AP)

“With Evo (Evans), he’s now been around that level for a while, sitting at 25, 26 in the world, and he can go higher. He’s capable of big wins, he’s got a huge amount of Davis Cup experience.

“Then in doubles we’ve got three at the top of the game. Joe Salisbury has had an exceptional couple of years on tour. He’s playing such a high level. He’s one of the best athletes on tour. With Neal playing on the ad court, that’s why we went with him.”

Many things about the new format are not ideal, not least Austria going into lockdown, meaning the ties will be played behind closed doors.

A great atmosphere in the stands and among the off-court staff has enabled Britain to consistently overperform since Smith took over the captaincy in 2010, so a two-year gap between ties presents a challenge.

“It’s so different,” said the Scot, who is also the Lawn Tennis Association’s head of men’s tennis.

“Obviously we all used to love having two, three, four ties a year and coming together, and the home and away element was obviously a strong appeal.

“You have to think of different ways to keep a team togetherness but what’s really helped us is the players are all playing on the main tour so they’re together a lot.

“It’s been a long gap, obviously. We’ve got great memories of what happened in 2019. We’ve been together for a long time. We’ve built up over a decade of team spirit.”

While Britain begin in Innsbruck, planning for the whole tournament is near enough impossible.

Winning the group would mean a quarter-final in Innsbruck then potentially a semi-final and final in Madrid, but finishing as one of the best-placed runners-up would mean heading for the Spanish capital ahead of the last eight.

Smith is not concerning himself too much with such matters, saying: “The first thing you’ve got to try and do is win the group. Then you know you play your quarter-final in Innsbruck.

“The logistics side will be taken care of regardless, and I don’t look at it too much as being a disadvantage if you have to suddenly go off to Madrid.

Andy Murray has chosen not to be part of another Davis Cup campaign
Andy Murray has chosen not to be part of another Davis Cup campaign (Andrew Milligan/PA)

“Obviously the way they’ve done it this time with Innsbruck and Madrid being at altitude helps mitigate that change of environment. I wouldn’t say it’s ideal but it’s not something we’re overthinking because we’ve got to put all the focus on Saturday and the first match against a very difficult French team.

“If you can get out of the group everything feels like you’ve got momentum, whether that’s in Innsbruck or Madrid.”

With so little time between Davis Cup and the start of the new season, Andy Murray has chosen to prioritise rest and then a block of training.

He left the door ajar to a change of heart, and Smith held off naming a fifth player until last week, when Broady was brought in.

Joe Salisbury, second right, was runner-up in doubles at the ATP Final with American Rajeev Ram
Joe Salisbury, second right, was runner-up in doubles at the ATP Finals with American Rajeev Ram (Luca Bruno/AP)

“Everyone in the team would have loved Andy to be there because he’s been our best British player of all time and to have him in the team it makes a difference on a number of levels, most importantly on the court,” said the captain.

“If he’d wanted to change his mind and come in we’d have absolutely loved it but I think all of us understand what he’s gone through, what he needs to do.

“He’s made such impressive strides and now everyone’s excited what he’s going to do in the next 12 months. Ultimately it’s the right decision for him to focus on getting a bit of rest and recovery and then building back up.”