Tramlines: A little help from Murray's friend

Eurosport - Mon, 12 Apr 11:36:00 2010

The new Davis Cup captain might not have great credentials as a tennis coach, but he has one little trick up his sleeve.

The Davis Cup trophy - 0

When Great Britain's Davis Cup team went down to lowly Lithuania last month there was a huge outcry.

Critics decried the woeful performance of the team - and with good reason. Hundreds of millions of pounds have been channelled from Wimbledon's profits into the LTA - in 2009 alone, the figure was 29 million - yet the Brits lost to a Lithuanian team whose annual budget would scarcely cover the LTA's monthly bill for racquet strings.

But after that defeat in Vilnius, the collective finger of blame began to point in a rather odd direction. It wasn't the misfiring players who got it in the neck; nor their coaches, despite an apparently clear failure to get the best out of the talent they are moulding; nor was blame apportioned to a system that has allowed a chronic lack of accessible and affordable tennis facilities for kids growing up in Britain.

Instead all the blame got heaped on John Lloyd, the nominal team captain, whose job appeared to be picking the best of a bunch of no-hopers and then sitting by the side of the court looking anxious.

No wonder Lloyd walked away from the job.

Incredibly, the LTA have had the gall to appoint as his successor the former head of player development, Leon Smith. Ignoring the fact that there hasn't been any player development under him, LTA player director Steven Martens announced that Smith was "the perfect fit for this important role".

Smith's credentials as having coached Andy Murray through his "formative years" have been brought up to add apparent weight to the appointment. And it's true that he did have some involvement in coaching Murray between the ages of 11 and 15; after that the young Scot moved to Spain because the coaching and development he was receiving in Britain wasn't good enough.

But if the appointment is starting to look like a classic piece of myopic cronyism by the LTA then Tramlines is here to put your mind at ease, because Smith has a trump card.

He may not have been a good enough coach to take a young Murray to the next level, but they developed a strong personal friendship which continues to this day.

That alone is likely to ensure that the new Davis Cup captain will be able to count on the one thing that blighted Lloyd's efforts in the job: Andy Murray turning up consistently, even when he might not be 100 per cent fit. Smith will be able to lean a little on his pal to get him to play, even when he doesn't really fancy a late winter trip to the Baltic states.

And for that reason alone, Smith is almost certainly the right man for the job.

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The news of Martina Navratilova's cancer diagnosis has shocked the world of tennis.

Navratilova's incredible athleticism lit up courts at the highest level in the 1970s and '80s. She racked up a total of 18 Grand Slam singles titles, despite sharing her stage with such all-time greats as Steffi Graf and Chris Evert.

As a doubles player she was greater still, with her last Grand Slam title - the 2006 mixed doubles at the US Open - coming an astonishing 32 years after he first, the 1974 mixed doubles at Roland Garros.

Thankfully, Navratilova's cancer has been caught early and her chances of a complete recovery are excellent. We wish her well.

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Tweets of the Week

Winner: "Alex corretja's birthday today. Dunno if monte carlo has enough candles in stock for the cake." - Andy Murray pokes a little fun at his Spanish friend and former world number two Alex Corretja after they watched the Clasico (Barcelona v Real Madrid) on Saturday. For the record, Corretja turned 36 on Sunday.

Honourable mention: "Belgium is such a nice country ... Just wish the weather would be better! :-) Love coming home!" - Kim Clijsters demonstrates her total lack of guile. Apparently she is the world's nicest person - at least that's what her collection of teddy bears told us.

Wooden spoon: "Check out MY skincare company's BIG announcement!!" - No, Serena Williams, we don't think we will.

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No significant moves in the men's rankings this month, but after his recent run of poor form since the Australian Open world number four Andy Murray is just 90 points ahead of Juan Martin del Potro, with number six Nikolay Davydenko also within striking distance at just 510 points behind. Murray is defending semi-final points from Monte Carlo last year, and another early defeat could easily leave him outside the top five for the first time since August 2008.

Women's world number 10 Kim Clijsters has amassed her points in just nine tournaments, and with no points to defend a good clay season could easily leap her (justifiably) into the top five.

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Neither the American A-Bog (Alex Bogomolov) nor the British one (Alex Bogdanovic) were in action last week, so by rights we shouldn't award the points to either player.

Yet this time last week we gave A-Bog (US) the victory on the basis that he had progressed to the qualifying round of the US Clay Court championships. Since he then lost that match - and to an Irishman at that - we're chalking one up for A-Bog (GB)!

A-Bog (US) sees his lead trimmed to 6-4.

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This week

The clay court season kicks into gear this week when the Monte Carlo Masters gets under way. With Roger Federer out of action Rafael Nadal will be the main draw, even if world number two Novak Djokovic is the top seed for the event. Andy Murray and Marin Cilic are also among those playing.

The big event for women is WTA Charleston, where Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki comes in as hot favourite after her victory at the weekend. Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka are also in action on the American green clay.

There's also a ladies tournament on clay in Barcelona, with Francesca Schiavone and Aravane Rezai the only top-20 players in attendance.

Tramlines / Eurosport

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