THE last time I spoke to Leon Smith, I was 11 years old and he was coaching me at Clarkston Tennis Club on the south side of Glasgow.

Oh, how his career has gone downhill from then. Or maybe not. Twenty years on, Smith is now the third most important man in British tennis; not only is he Davis Cup captain, he is also Head of British Tennis at the LTA meaning that only Andy Murray and the chief executive of the LTA, Michael Downey, are more influential within the sport in this country than the 39 year-old.

Smith's ascent to the top of British tennis has been remarkable and one that even Mystic Meg could not have predicted. A decent club player, Smith turned to coaching early- while still a teenager in fact- and was one of Murray's first coaches. He remained so until the former Wimbledon champion moved to Barcelona to further his development.

Smith joined the LTA in 2007 as national under-16 coach and the Scot's progression within the organisation has been nothing short of astonishing. It was 2010 when Smith was, to the surprise of many, appointed Davis Cup captain, that he really came to the public's attention. However, since taking up the post, he has been almost flawlessly successful. Taking the reins after a humiliating loss to Lithuania, Smith took the GB team from the second tier of the Europe/Africa Zone in 2010 to the quarter-finals of the World Group last year.

Smith may not be unique in holding the position he does with such a lack of top-level playing experience but he is certainly in the minority. His opposing captain this weekend is Jim Courier, a four-time grand slam champion and the vast majority of Davis Cup captains around the world are former professional players, if not major winners.

On this front, Smith is at something of a disadvantage. While elite playing experience is by no means necessary in order to be a top-class coach, there can be little doubt that there are significant benefits of having played at the highest level. How can Smith even consider advising Murray on how to play a deciding set, in a deciding rubber when he has little, if any appreciation, of how it feels to be in such a position. On the tour, few coaches have no professional playing experience and while there are individuals such as Toni Nadal, who has coached his nephew, Rafa, since he was a child, reaching the top of the coaching ladder without elite playing experience or a touch of nepotism is virtually unheard of.

But this deficiency appears to have done Smith little harm. A genial individual, he is almost universally liked- a quality which is non-negotiable when heading up a Davis Cup team. Smith's most valuable achievement has been engendering a desire within Murray to play for the British team, the importance of which may, yet again, be demonstrated this weekend.

That a man who has not played professionally is now in charge of developing both the men's and women's game in Britain could be an issue but this has been averted. Smith has talked in the past about his enjoyment of researching the game and his appetite for developing his knowledge in an attempt to compensate for his lack of playing experience.

Smith is, on the surface, extremely affable, but he possesses a ruthless streak which is imperative for anyone who wishes to reach the top of their profession. He has made harsh decisions in his time as Davis Cup captain, most notably dropping Jamie Baker at the last minute for a tie against Russia in 2013, instead selecting the inconsistent and unproven Dan Evans. It proved to be a masterstroke; Evans won the deciding match against a player ranked 245 places above him to send GB into the World Group play-offs.

That Smith is not afraid to make the hard decisions is impressive and has helped foster the respect from the Davis Cup team that he so obviously enjoys. The health of British tennis also appears to be improving under Smith's watch. While Murray remains the pre-eminent British player, James Ward is on the verge of breaking into the world's top 100 and on the women's side, Heather Watson and Laura Robson both have the potential to make significant inroads in the grand slams in the years to come.

For Smith, this weekend's tie against the USA, is one of the biggest occasions of his professional career. Irrespective of the result though, the Scot's ascent through the ranks of British tennis has been remarkable. And you wouldn't bet against his success continuing.