After an incredible 2016 for British tennis, Leon Smith only took seconds to come up with his wish for the New Year;“ Simple, more of the same please!”
You can understand why Smith, Great Britain’s popular Davis Cup captain, wants to replicate the previous 12 months which culminated in a Knighthood for his great friend Andy Murray, who ended the year as the world No.1. That was the ranking his brother Jamie attained in doubles during 2016, while Johanna Konta gave British women’s tennis a wonderful lift by becoming a member of the Top 10 ranked players.
Britain has never enjoyed such a remarkable period of tennis success and when you add the 2015 Davis Cup triumph masterminded by Smith, who was awarded an OBE in the New Year’s Honours, this really is a special time. Of course, nothing stands still in tennis and the ranking system is designed to challenge every player to match or better their previous year’s work and Smith is confident Britain’s top players will not bask in their glory.
As confirmation that a corner has been turned by British players, Konta won the Sydney title as this year’s treadmill started up, and Evans made the men’s final at the same tournament on their way to Melbourne – heady days indeed. Both enjoyed succesful runs at the Australian Open, reaching the fourth round and quarter-finals respectively, and their exploits helped soften the blow of Murray exiting the Australian Open in the fourth round.
There is a long road ahead, though, and the World No.1 is, according to Smith, ready to stay ahead of the chasing pack.
The signs that 2017 would deliver “more the same” were evident to Smith when he travelled to Florida to watch the Murrays, Kyle Edmund, Evans and Dom Inglot training before the start of the new tennis year and his coach’s report card was very encouraging.
He said: “Andy was working as hard as I have ever seen him and the hunger and motivation from all the players is incredible. I am really excited about the new year. Just remember what Andy had to do to get the No.1 ranking in the last three months of the year – an outrageous number of wins in a row. It is difficult to stay at the top, but having spent time with them all, it is astonishing the amount of work they are putting in.”
Smith is keen to spread accolades by quickly adding the names of Konta, Edmund and Evans whenever the conversation naturally focuses on Sir Andy and brother Jamie. The strides up the rankings ladder made by Edmund and Evans in 2016 would have grabbed the headlines if the Murrays had not been dominating the sport. While other eyes were distracted, Smith, with his Davis Cup hat on, was closely monitoring their progress.
Smith added: “This is an amazing group of players, spearheaded by Andy and the year-end rankings for Kyle (who reached a career high of world No.40 in October) and Dan showed the strides they have made.
“The two of them have been terrific and I am really excited about what is possible in 2017 for Kyle because he does have a big game. Who would have thought that 18 months ago when Dan was ranked in 700’s he would suddenly be up to a career high No.51. They may not be spoken about as much as Andy, but they keep striving, working their socks off and shooting for the stars.
“It was an incredible 12 months and besides what Andy, Jamie, Jo and Gordon Reid did, you have great stories about Kyle, Dan, Heather Watson and Naomi Broady plus the Davis Cup this year when we got to the semi-finals. It has been wave after wave of amazing memories for everyone involved in the sport – it’s been non-stop. The nation has captured that excitement and I saw it on the trophy tour and the Tennis for Kids workshops. The key thing is making sure there is a legacy for decades to come.”
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