Jamie Murray was both a winner and a loser as the Schroders Battle of the Brits exhibition event held in Aberdeen on Thursday night came to a close.
Murray’s Scottish team were well beaten by English rivals, as it probably seemed from the moment Cameron Norrie, who qualifies as Scottish through his Glaswegian father, confirmed he would not participate.
But looking at the bigger picture, this was an excellent addition to the British tennis calendar, which ran their money into the final Davis Cup finals in Glasgow. Jamie Murray was the impressionist who put the whole thing together and deserves praise for coming up with an exciting format even down to the eccentric selection of the team captains: former Open champion golfer Paul Lawrie for Scotland and England for former QPR manager Ian Holloway.
“It was great,” said Jamie Murray after the last ball was hit. “A great day or two, three great sessions. That was so fun.
“We worked hard for two years, everything was arranged for last year and we finally had to cancel at the very last moment. [because of a Covid surge]. I really appreciate everyone who came out to play and made an effort to make it really special for us.”
Over the course of three sessions, more than 20,000 fans visited the P&J Live Arena and each was presented with a beautiful show from the main attraction. Andy Murray may have been knighted at Buckingham Palace, but here he is worshiped as a sports god.
On Wednesday night, young Murray narrowly beat Jack Draper to become Scotland’s only live tyre. Thursday was tied to his afternoon meeting with Dan Evans, which again showcased a fascinating drama.
These two men have been training together for over ten years. They know each other’s games so well that it was always going to be a tight relationship, but Evans was pretty excited about the competition. As he said earlier in the week, “I used to find it pretty hard to play Andy on tour and hit him in the face a little bit. But since there’s no points or anything and there’s a big crowd, it would be a lot of fun to beat him here.”
Evans came out of the blocks really faster as he passed the first set, only for Murray to get into a fantastic serving rhythm and level things up. This meant a super tie-break to fix the problem – the second Murray played for days – and once again applied some characteristic escape science to the fans, reversing two Evans shots to steal a point to the head.
But it was Evans who played the more daring tennis, hitting some big forehand winners in the final minutes, closing the 6-4, 3-6, 1-0 (10-8) win. In the process, he showed beyond any doubt that this event was really a battle played out in full swing, rather than a predetermined, fictionalized pastime.
Evans’ win left England 5-1 ahead on aggregate. (As with the Laver Cup, which this event closely resembles, the results increase in value, so the first session offers one point per win, the second two and the third three points.)
All doubts were cleared when Paul Jubb defeated Aidan McHugh in the reserve singles showdown. (Draper, who turned 21 on Thursday, was only here to attend on the first evening.)
But the Murray brothers still had time to finish the fun by beating Evans and Neal Skupski 6-3, 6-4.
There could be a bit of extra color in this matchup after Evans publicly announced that he should be selected for the Davis Cup doubles tires in Glasgow in September, instead of the (travelling) selected pair of Andy Murray and Joe Salisbury. To Aberdeen it will only be lowered due to injury).
For Andy Murray, this was clearly an emotional moment. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played with Jamie,” he said, “so it’s really special to play here in Scotland. We have to treat these moments as if we’ll never have a chance again because, you know, we’re getting a little bit ahead and you never know what’s around the corner.”
The final score was 8-4 in England’s favour, but that wasn’t the point. The aim was to bring competitive tennis to an unprecedented remote outpost, and the goal was triumphantly achieved.