Ian Holloway may never find work as a tennis coach, but the well-travelled football manager is relishing his introduction to the racket sport.
Installed, quite randomly, as captain of the England team in the ‘Battle of the Brits’ against Scotland, he was larking around like a distant relative at a family Christmas party with one too many sherries on board.
His number one player, Dan Evans, got his team off to a winning start against Paul Lawrie’s Scotland when he beat Glasgow’s Aidan McHugh 6-4 6-2 in front of a packed 6,000 fans at Aberdeen’s P&J Arena.
Dan Evans beat Scotland’s Aidan McHugh 6-4, 6-2 in front of a packed 6,000 fans at Aberdeen’s P&J Arena
Team England’s odd captain for the tournament was well-travelled football manager Ian Holloway
They are followed by Andy Murray, taking on his possible heir in the British game, Jack Draper.
As a new Sports Personality of the Year was anointed down south, the three-time winner of that award was cheered to the rafters by his adoring home public.
Holloway began the evening by bluntly admitting that his knowledge of tennis was expanded upon knowing that it is a sport played with two rackets in singles, and four in doubles.
His management strategy is clear, however. The goal is to relax the players on his team bench, by dancing a jig between plays, or letting his bowler hat steal those around him.
Holloway was seen wearing a bowler hat and tried to relax Evans on the team bench
Team Scotland’s Aidan McHugh came out on the losing side on day one of the Battle of the Brits
‘You see how he gets his players to rally and you see how maybe some of them aren’t his biggest fans but he’s very energetic,’ said Evans of his interim boss. ‘It’s all going on, he’s shouting, calling balls in or out.’
Holloway and Lawrie – Aberdeen’s former Open champions – have been tapped to add wider appeal to an event which finds itself part pre-Christmas pantomime and part serious preparation for the upcoming Australian leg of the new season of tennis.
If the former is the case, Evans is happy to play the villain, first talking about how he’s looking forward to giving the overmatched McHugh – ranked 373 – a good hiding.
A few boos greeted Evans as he walked onto the court but it wasn’t football’s home international of yesteryear, or even the welcome England would get in the Six Nations at Murrayfield.
Sir Andy Murray faces England’s Jack Draper after the Evans vs Lawrie showdown
The Scottish team, paraded at the start in kilts, was assembled by Jamie Murray in the final development of his BOTB concept. It started in 2020 as a way of providing competitive opportunities during the lockdown when travel was banned.
Cam Norrie might have played for the host team through his Glaswegian father, if he hadn’t been in mid-Australia and collecting bigger pay checks for other exhibition events, such as the recent one in Saudi Arabia.
He will probably have to play in the future for this match-up to have more longevity, with Scotland’s famous brothers in their thirties.
Team Scotland’s side features the Murray brothers who will play doubles on Thursday
McHugh, 22, is the closest thing to a homegrown successor in the men’s game, and has a good game, even without any great weapons. His struggle to break through to the global game shows just how difficult it is to succeed on the world stage, and how remarkable it is that two champions have emerged from the backwaters of Dunblane.
There are fewer obstacles to being someone like the new Ally McCoist, who should also be here in a captaincy role, but cried yesterday of exhaustion after Qatar.
This time next week, Evans will be in Sydney playing for Great Britain in the new United Cup team competition with Norrie, where they will likely face Australia and Nick Kyrgios.
This is likely to be more strenuous than tonight’s work, although a useful warm-up in terms of playing like an away fixture. Murray’s matchup against Draper proves to be a higher octane affair.
In terms of the overall outcome of this match, not everything could be lost either way after the first session of three, which was spread over two days.
Jamie Murray has decided to copy the format of the recent Laver Cup by making the opening matches count three times less than tonight’s climax, meaning that the result is likely to be in doubt until the end.