"We’ve got to keep going on this" - Leon Smith reflects on British success at Wimbledon
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Cam Norrie might have become only the fourth British men’s semi-finalist at Wimbledon in the Open era, but it is the depth on show at SW19 that has most pleased Leon Smith.
The Head of Men’s tennis at the LTA and Great Britain’s Davis Cup captain has overseen the elite end of the game in the country since 2010.
And where the early part of his involvement was dominated by the success of Andy Murray with others struggling to make an impact at the top level, all that has changed.
For the first time in nearly 40 years, ten British players made it through to the second round of the singles, while Neal Skupski won his second successive mixed doubles crown at the All England Club.
The feel-good factor is impossible to miss and Smith knows the key now is to ensure it continues. He said: “I was just talking to our CEO Scott Lloyd about that (the British success) and we were saying that this is what it should feel like and it didn’t four years ago.
“We had Andy, Jamie (Murray), (Johanna) Konta and some getting fleeting results. Now, the most satisfying thing is seeing others do well.
“What is then even more satisfying is the players to recognise each other doing well, while focused on themselves.
“I’ve done the role for 12 years now and the first half of that I would be going to Grand Slams and looking at the men’s side, one, maybe two in qualies, one in the main draw, a few doubles players?
“Now you go and the players’ lounge is full and there are Brits sitting around the tables, grabbing something to eat together, sandwiches together.
“That’s manifested by some, not all, have British coaching teams, so suddenly you have got British coaches getting to feed off this level and be around it. The numbers are big and that’s a much better place to be in. We’ve got to keep going on this. We’ve got to make sure that everyone pulls together for that group that are up there now, keep them up there.”
One factor in the upturn in fortunes has been cited time and again by the British players – the Battle of the Brits.
The event that was pulled together early during the Covid pandemic allowed the country’s top players a chance to get some competitive action against their compatriots while travel was not possible. And in arguably the most individual of all sports, it has led to a real camaraderie and team spirit within the British contingent.
Smith explained: “I think lockdown helped, having the National Training Centre (in Roehampton) as the elite training centre which was allowed to operate during the darkest times of the pandemic.
“It made everyone play together, younger ones, older ones were together every day.
“That brought a lot of team spirit and for sure, the team competition that was run during that time, Battle of the Brits, was amazing fun, a great event to be part of for everybody.
“The last 12 months and the last 4-6 weeks with the grass-court season has probably been the best. There are so many different stories. I think it’s great, boys, girls both doing well and it’s important to keep capitalising on that and keeping that culture going. The culture is the key thing, the feeling that they are all in it together, that’s the most important thing.”