Tennis: Scots can produce new kings for Leon

Leon Smith reckons he has found one outstanding talent
Leon Smith reckons he has found one outstanding talent
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Leon Smith, the Edinburgh-based Great Britain Davis Cup captain, reckons he has found “The One” right under his nose who can eventually carry the baton on from Andy Murray in world tennis.

However, the Scottish tennis coach is intent on keeping mum for the time being.

“There is one boy in particular I think will be one of the best around. He can be very good,” said Smith, refusing to elaborate further.

But Smith, speaking at Craiglockhart as he helped promote the World Group Davis Cup tie between Britain and the USA at Glasgow’s Emirates Arena from March 6-8 next year, did explain his reticence, saying: “He will think he is too good. He shouldn’t be anywhere near a column or anything like that.

“Some of them have a good work ethic but then ... some of our youngsters coming through often get mentioned quite a lot and it knocks their radar off and distractions happen. I don’t really like naming names of kids when they are that young because they might think they are already special, but there’s a good group of boys and girls with good potential (in Scotland).”

So, who does the Evening News think Smith might have in mind?

The current British junior rankings have two Scottish boys at No.1 – Aidan McHugh at under-14 level and Ewan Moore at under-18 level.

Rankings, however, don’t tell the whole story, as not every youngster finds it advisable, long term, to chase ranking points.

Moore is attending the Scottish tennis academy based at Merchiston Castle School, which has other outstanding prospects including 13-year-old Jacob Fearnley, Cameron Bowie, 15, and 12-year-old Alex Mikheev.

It is possible, too, that Smith has high hopes for Jonny O’Mara, who has just entered the senior circuit, but the coach is keeping his counsel – and that includes the girls who, he acknowledges, are a particularly talented crop.

Anastasia Mikheeva, 15, from Edinburgh and Mikheev’s sister, competed well in the Wimbledon junior singles this year before losing 4-6, 3-6 to the eventual winner, while 14-year-old Alexandra Hunter is ranked No.2 in GB at under-14.

Also, Mikheeva and 17-year-old Millie Stretton, from Blackhall, were part of the East women’s squad who finished third in the British inter-county championships this year.

Ali Collins, Maia Lumsden, Isobelle Wallace and Anna Brogan are also exceptional prospects, while the 14-year-old Mair twins, Jessica and Charlotte, from Colinton are others to watch out for.

“We have a good bunch of kids in Scotland,” said Smith, “and you’d hope so. There should be a legacy of what Andy Murray is achieving and has achieved.

“There should be more kids in Scotland playing and wanting to become the next Andy Murray.

“I think back to the days when I picked up Andy to practice and he went to school and then came back to do it all over again. It was a slog but also a privilege.”

Smith believes this Scottish production line wouldn’t be as effective without strong back up. “Coaches here are very good, dedicated, passionate and committed to what they are doing,” he continued. “I take my hat off to coaches who are sometimes ready to go at 7am, but have to get up at half past five.”

These coaches are going to benefit, he says, from this summer’s appointment of Australian coach Bob Brett as the LTA’s head of player development.

“Bob will be good for British and Scottish tennis,” said Smith. “He has worked with Boris Becker, Goran Ivanisevic and Marin Cilic, amongst others, and we are already seeing a big shift in work ethic.”

Smith then finally name-checked a couple of Scottish juniors in highlighting the regime necessary to reach the top.

“Ewan Moore has just done three hours in the morning and will be doing another two hours looking to hit one more ball, one more ball. Anastasia too,” Smith explained.

“He sets up exercises that are much more challenging and run for longer. Lessons are going on for 3-5 hours because you have got to prepare this next generation for what it is going to be like.

“Bob’s attention to detail for a longer period of time is really good. Our kids have a lot of choices. We’re not living in squalor, so our job in the coaching environment is, to coin a phrase, to create hunger in paradise and facilities at Craiglockhart and Stirling are very, very good.

“With the Davis Cup world group coming to Scotland, we want kids to come along and have a ton of fun and hopefully it will inspire them the way I was when acting as a ball-boy when John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors played at Craiglockhart in 1989.

The message from Glasgow-born Smith is that the upcoming Davis Cup tie against the Americans will the biggest tennis event held in Scotland since then.