• Davis Cup

Leon Smith is not the answer for Murray - Cash

Nick Atkin
March 30, 2014
Leon Smith is the LTA's head of men's tennis but has not ruled out a future full-time coaching role © Getty Images

Andy Murray may have tried to fool his following by claiming on April Fool's Day that he was about to announce a new coach but Pat Cash hopes he is thinking seriously about the potential candidates.

The former Wimbledon champion says the timing of the British No.1's split with Ivan Lendl could not have been worse - and replacing him with Davis Cup captain Leon Smith would be a mistake.

Murray has teamed up with Smith and the rest of the British team for their Davis Cup quarter final against Italy, which was due to start in Naples on Friday.

The pair are old friends after the captain tutored Murray in his teenage years and Smith has been given short odds by some bookmakers to take on a new role with the Scot post-Lendl.

Andy Murray split with Ivan Lendl earlier this month © Getty Images

But Cash urged Murray not to let friendship cloud his judgement. "Leon Smith will be able to help him this week," the Australian said. "But Leon has no experience of playing tournaments.

"It's not something Leon's ever done. I'm sure he'll provide him plenty of support which at this stage is the most important thing, but he'll need to look for somebody else.

"There aren't many people around though, that's the problem. It's not that easy to find a coach but I'm sure Andy knows what he wants to do.

"There have been been some really weird ones who have come forward - Becker with Djokovic was unusual. Although Boris has got plenty of experience, there's no doubt about that. He knows his tennis game pretty well.

"You're looking down that line. There are guys out there - it depends on who Murray wants and who's available."

Murray's attempt to have some fun about his coaching position this week suggests he is relaxed about his situation. However, Cash believes the split with Lendl - prompted, it seems, by the the Czech - could bring serious problems.

After four months out following back surgery in September, Murray has struggled for consistency and is set to fall to eighth in the world rankings having lost to Novak Djokovic in the Miami Masters quarter-finals.

Murray was also forced to call for painkillers for his back during his fourth-round win against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at Key Biscane, a week after he crashed out at the same stage at Indian Wells to Milos Raonic.

The decision to part last month has left the current Wimbledon champion up against it in his bid to return to full fitness ahead of his title defence.

28 years of hurt

Pat Cash beat Jeremy Bates in the opening singles match of Australia's 4-1 win over Britain in 1986 © Getty Images
  • Pat Cash was part of the Australia team that beat Britain 4-1 in their last Davis Cup quarter-final 28 years ago - and insists the hosts' choice of Wimbledon as the venue might have backfired on them.
  • "Playing on Court One, where I'd played a few matches a couple of weeks before at Wimbledon, it almost felt like a home match to me," says Cash. "Getting the chance to play on the grass at Wimbledon again was a thrill.
  • "I had appendicitis just before Wimbledon. I didn't think I was going to be able to play, but I ended up getting through to the quarter-finals.
  • "It was about then I had a big change in my life. I thought: 'If I can get to the quarter-finals having had my appendix taken out two weeks before, I have a chance of winning Wimbledon.'"
  • Inspired by his Wimbledon heroics, Cash won both of his singles matches against Jeremy Bates and Andrew Castle - the second of which was a dead rubber after Paul McNamee had seen off Castle and Cash and Fitzgerald beat Bates and Colin Dowdeswell in the doubles. Bates saved some face for Britain with a win in the final match against McNamee.
  • "Andrew Castle had had a pretty decent Wimbledon," says Cash. "He lost to Mats Wilander in five sets. Wilander was the reigning French Open champion. Batesy was always there or thereabouts too, and Colin Dowdeswell was a good doubles player.
  • "But I was full of confidence and in pretty good form at that stage. Fitzy [John Fitzgerald] and I had been in the doubles final at Wimbledon. We were a bit disappointed we lost because we played pretty well.
  • "It was just a matter of me recovering because I was exhausted after Wimbledon. It was just about getting a bit of freshness in the legs.
  • "Davis Cup was huge for us - it was the biggest thing for an Aussie to be playing Davis Cup for your country. We had great camaraderie; we were all quite different personalities but we all had a lot of fun. We practised hard, our minds were on winning it and it turned out we did win it that year.
  • "It still remains important for us, though we're not as successful as we used to be. We still give it a good crack."

"It's pretty unfortunate the split with Lendl has happened right now," Cash said. "It's not a great time when you're trying to get your form back to split with your coach.

"Lendl's played big matches and the grand slams. Murray's talked openly about how he provided that experience in his camp."

Britain haven't contested a Davis Cup quarter-final for 28 years, when Cash was part of the Australia side that beat them 4-1 before going on to win the competition.

But having had former top 10 singles players Tim Henman and Greg Rusedki available to them since that 1986 match, Cash can't fathom how it's taken Britain this long to get back to the same stage.

"It's a bit surprising it's taken 28 years for Britain to win a round in a World Group Davis Cup match," said Cash. "That's very poor by anybody's standards.

"Particularly with Henman and Rusedski. That was a very good team with very good players - both top 10 singles players.

"Neil Broad was a very good doubles player as well. You would've expected Britain to do well and even be in with a shout to win it.

"They had a couple of tough draws, to be fair, playing America in the first round once."

However, Cash firmly believes Murray and Co can book their place in the semi-finals, insisting "anything can happen" in the Davis Cup.

Britain's chances may also have been boosted after Italian No.1 Fabio Fognini, the world No.14, headed home for an MRI scan on his left quad muscle following his 6-2 6-2 defeat to Rafael Nadal in the fourth round of the Miami Masters.

Fognini is set to play against but doubts over his fitness persist.

"The thing about Davis Cup - it's an extraordinary competition, that's why I love it," added Cash. "Anything can happen. You have players who play out of their mind just for one Davis Cup, it's their country.

"These things happen, big players get nervous. It really changes the whole thing. If you can pull off a win away from home it's huge.

"You see Tiger Woods - he can't play in match-play for the Ryder Cup, when he's playing head-to-head for his country. He just doesn't perform. It's a big change.

"[Fabio] Fognini's a very good clay court player. The Italians will be pumped up for that. [Andreas] Seppi's a good player.

"It's not a bad draw, really. Britain have a good chance now. If you look at the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup, though, it could be a lot worse. You could be playing Spain or France. Switzerland are on a good run, Stanislas Wawrinka and Roger Federer are in good form.

"It's a winnable tie. Obviously Murray's got to win two matches, or it may be three matches if he's in the doubles, but Britain have some good doubles options there. Murray's got to win two and at that stage anything can happen. Somebody can have a great match.

"Murray looks like he's starting to come back into some form. This is about the time he should be starting to play well.

"It's a tough ask but it could be a lot worse."

Fabio Fognini has battled against injury for the chance to take on Andy Murray in the Davis Cup tie with Great Britain © PA Photos

Nick Atkin is an assistant editor at ESPN. You can follow him on Twitter @natkinESPN

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