FOR one week at least, Leon Smith will savour being back in Andy Murray's coaching corner.

The Great Britain Davis Cup captain, a Glaswegian who tutored a teenage Murray, enjoys the chance to reprise those roles in the team format of the sport, and never more so than this week when Great Britain take on a tough-looking Italy on the clay courts of Naples in the world group quarter-finals.

As to whether the arrangement is any more permanent than that, it still feels like something of a long shot. When the news broke of Murray's amicable parting with Ivan Lendl this month, some bookmakers made Smith 3/1 favourite to replace him as a permanent coach on the tour.

Loading article content

There was a logic to that: the two men remain friends, clearly work well together, and for all his low profile and lack of playing pedigree, Smith is probably under-rated as a strategist. He boasts an 8-1 winning record with the Davis Cup team, with Murray playing in fewer than half of those ties.

Smith said he was happy to be linked to the role, but there had been no contact with the 26-year-old from Dunblane, who still - it must be remembered - has a team including the likes of his old Sanchez-Casal Academy pal Dani Vallverdu in place. As a close friend of the family, it is worth stressing Smith is already invested in Murray's welfare.

"I always enjoy working with Andy in the Davis Cup because it is so obvious how much he wants to come and play for the team," Smith said. "Obviously we have known each other for many, many years so it is normal for me to be associated with that [the permanent coach's role] while I am Davis Cup captain, but there is nothing in that.

"It is nice to be associated with it because he is an amazing player but the main focus is getting him in the best shape possible, not just for this tie but so he can be back to his best like we saw last summer.

"However, the thing with Andy is that his current team are really good. You can't forget how good Dani Vallverdu is, even though he really works under the radar. It wasn't just Ivan, although Ivan obviously did an amazing job.

"Dani is more than capable of filling that role and he has other guys there too. Andy doesn't often make a wrong decision with his coaching team and I am sure it will be another good choice, whatever he does."

While the 38-year-old's weighty LTA day job as head of men's tennis is another obstacle against such an appointment, Smith refused to rule out a return to full-time coaching on the tour some day.

"You can't just get pigeon-holed and stay doing the same thing for the rest of your life," Smith said. "You always have to see what is out there and at the end of the day I am not sitting behind a desk, I am out at tournaments, doing an element of coaching, so who knows what the future holds?"

Smith agrees with Murray's prognosis that he is inching closer to "where he wants to be" in terms of his form, but, having been in Miami to check on Italy's two top singles players, Fabio Fognini and Andrea Seppi, is well aware this tie presents dangers.

Both men would represent a huge challenge, not only for Murray, but also for either James Ward or Dan Evans in the second singles rubber, with Ward, after his clay-court victory against Sam Querrey in San Diego in February, the favourite to play. Assuming Murray is fit, he and fellow Scot Colin Fleming are likely to play in the doubles.

Fognini, ranked world No 14, is a volatile shot-maker who can play his best on clay courts, and should embrace the challenge of playing in front of a passionate home crowd, assuming he can shake off the calf problem he complained of in a straight-sets defeat to Rafa Nadal.

"I would be very surprised if he doesn't play some part in the tie though whether he will play all three days or not I don't know," Smith said. "He is very flamboyant so his shot selection is quite difficult to read, although he does have some patterns most clay-courters have. But he does have his off-days too. Mentally he can be up and down, so he could be vulnerable."

Seppi, on the other hand, ranked just outside the top 30, is a hugely experienced player who had one of the victories of his career over five sets against home favourite Lleyton Hewitt at January's Australian Open. "He is very, very solid, very professional, he stays calm, he won't make much noise, just keeps his head down and works," Smith said.

The winner of the tie will face Switzerland or Kazhakstan. "Switzerland would be a better tie for the fans ... but I think we would take the Kazakhs," deadpans Smith.