Originally published on 20/12/16 00:00
Tennis is an inherently individual sport, but whether part of Great Britain’s winning Davis Cup team or your club’s third team in the local tennis league, there are times when it becomes a team game. The secret of any successful side is team spirit – individuals are playing for their club, region or country – not just themselves.
And while having a world- class player like Andy Murray in the team certainly played its part during Britain’s historic Davis Cup victory in 2015, the role played by captain Leon Smith did not go unheralded.
“You feel like every member of the team is equally important,” Dominic Inglot said of Smith, who boasts an impressive 14 wins from 16 ties since taking over as captain in 2010. “As a player you want to play for someone like that – someone who really treasures your input no matter if it's on the bench or on the court.”
Depending on the level of competition and the back-up team available, the skills required of a successful captain vary from logistics and coaching to tactician and amateur psychologist.
A captain must be comfortable making tough decisions, such as leaving a player on the bench or dropping a player from the team. In March 2015, Australia captain Willy Masur subbed in Lleyton Hewitt and Sam Groth for youngsters Nick Kyrgios and Thanasi Kokkinakis as Australia reversed a 0-2 deficit to beat Kazakhstan 3-2.
Hewitt, who boasts a 58-21 win-loss record in 42 Davis Cup ties, always produced his best tennis when wearing the green and gold of Australia, and the former world No.1 is now applying that passion to his role as captain.
“For me it’s about instilling my experience and helping the younger players be their best,” said Hewitt, who made his debut in 1999. Whether a playing captain like Hewitt, or the more traditional non-playing role, a captain’s job requires a full range of skills: tactical awareness, judicious communication, motivational and organisational ability, not to mention leadership.