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'Meticulous' captain is the man behind GB's swift rise

How, exactly, did we get to this point?

Leon Smith congratulates Andy Murray after the Scot's victory over Sam Querrey on Sunday
Leon Smith congratulates Andy Murray after the Scot's victory over Sam Querrey on Sunday

Britain's 3-1 victory over USA, away from home, at the weekend, sent them into the quarter-finals of the Davis Cup for the first time since 1986, yet another barren run broken by the prowess of Andy Murray, with a little help from his friends.

It was a stunning win, made even more so by the performance of James Ward, whose five-set win over Sam Querrey on day one complimented Murray's two singles victories to seal a famous triumph.

Players and officials mingled with fans at a party in San Diego on Sunday night, a nice touch for those who made the journey to support a team that until recently, has been starved of success.

Murray's presence is crucial to the success of the team, of course, but as cameras panned across the group's celebrations on Sunday, the face of Leon Smith shone as bright as anyone. When a then 34-year-old Smith was appointed in April 2010, most of the media, who were in Monte Carlo following Murray, were taken by surprise, believing his appointment due to his close relationship with the Scot.

Smith had coached Murray in his formative teenage years before he headed to Barcelona to train and, if anyone could convince Murray to play more Davis Cup ties, so the thinking went, it had to be Smith.

But to see Smith in this light is to underestimate a man who earned his job as captain through a singular vision and a determination matched by few others. "I know for a fact that [keeping Murray on side] wasn't in their minds," Simon Jones, the LTA's head of performance support, told Herald Sport from San Diego yesterday. "What they wanted was a proper coach, somebody who would do analysis, had a good methodology of working and who would have the confidence to sit on the seat [alongside the players at matches].

"Match by match, he introduced a way of working that if you walked into British cycling, or sailing, in [level of expertise and] attention to detail would be on a level with them," he said. "Winning eight of nine ties and beating the USA in the USA, yes, it's that good."

Where Lloyd's management-style could loosely be described as "winging it", Smith prefers a more scientific approach. "Leon's by nature a planner," Jones said. "For example, with the USA tie, our nutritionists contacted the hotels weeks in advance to check the food.

"His philosophy is to get a big team, of physios, trainers, analysts. He has very, very clear game plans for every player. The pressure of matches in Davis Cup is immense. For James Ward, because of the analysis that went into it, under pressure, that really paid off."

As doubles player Colin Fleming said after Britain beat Croatia in Umag last September to qualify for the world group: "there's not just one magic secret he's got".

He added: "He's meticulous. I think we had scout reports on just about every Croatia player there is, singles and doubles. Nothing is left unplanned. It's no accident that it's a really good team atmosphere here."

In the build-up to the tie in San Diego, the consensus seemed to be that teenager Kyle Edmund would be given the second singles spot ahead of Ward, thanks to his form on clay, his undoubted promise and Ward's lack of recent success.

But after monitoring practice, which always involves competitive sets, Smith stuck with Ward and was rewarded with the performance of the Englishman's career as he doubled Britain's lead.

Jones said Smith would already be thinking about the quarter-final, away to Italy, in early April.

"If he hasn't done so already, he'll be getting all the analysis on [Fabio] Fognini and [Andreas] Seppi," Jones said. "He'll be calling TV companies to get footage and working out the game plans."

With Judy Murray running the women's Fed Cup team and Smith in charge of a Davis Cup team including Murray and Colin Fleming, the Scottish mafia has well and truly infiltrated London's National Tennis Centre.

Depending how the Independence vote goes in September, there may be calls for a Scottish Davis Cup team and with Smith and Murray, they would doubtless do well, if they would be allowed in the competition.

One thing is for sure: you can bet Smith has done the research.

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