Father and son Mackin their mark together

AT first sight, it’s an unlikely sporting partnership - the football hardman and his tennis-playing son. Pie and bovril versus strawberries and cream.

Alan Mackin was a no-nonsense centre-half for Motherwell, Partick Thistle and Falkirk; young Alan, 20, is Scotland’s tennis No.1.

Together, they’re planning for the future, taking the best bits from both sports for a shot at glory.

"The mental side of tennis is a piece of cake for footballers," insisted Mackin snr, "they’d just dig in and chase the ball all day.

"But not enough Scottish footballers do play it. If they were to play tennis when they were young, the movement and footwork would make a big difference to their game."

He’s seen Dutch striker Pierre van Hooijdonk on court and claims he is a loss to tennis. Rangers fans may agree.

But Mackin also shakes his head at tennis tantrums and wonders how John McEnroe would have reacted to being kicked up and down Brockville.

"I could never work out what it was with all these temperamental tennis players," he said. "It used to annoy me because, as footballers, we used to think, ‘these guys are not getting physically hurt’."

One can imagine similar discussions taking place between Scotland’s top-ranked woman player, Elena Baltacha, and her former footballer father, Sergei.

However, such sporting relationships are far from unique. Andre Agassi’s father, Mike, boxed for Iran at the Olympics of 1948 in London, and four years later in Helsinki.

Sir Stanley Matthews’ son, also Stanley, played Davis Cup tennis for Britain, while former British No.1 Rachel Violet is the daughter of Manchester United’s Munich Air Crash survivor Denis.

Next week in Paris, world No.1 and top seed Lleyton Hewitt will open his French Open campaign, encouraged by his father, a former Aussie Rules footballer.

"When I was younger, I was soft mentally," admitted Mackin jnr, "and I think my dad’s managed to bring me up with a little tougher approach, which is important in tennis.

"I believe he was a tough footballer and if you look at all the top tennis players, they’re all tough mentally. I think he can help me a lot in that respect and I’m lucky to have someone who has played professional sport in the family."

Although originally from Paisley, Mackin is now based in Monaco, where he has developed his tennis skills since the age of 16. As a result, he is more comfortable on clay than most Britons. For him, long-term success at Roland Garros may be a more likely proposition than at Wimbledon.

However, he was named in the Davis Cup squad in 2000.

Last month, he made his professional breakthrough, winning two tournaments in Italy.

The Scottish Championship - now a Challenger event on the world tour - brought Mackin to Edinburgh two weeks ago, when he destroyed the seventh seed in the first round but went out to Argentina’s Martin Arguello Vassallo in the last 16.

It’s all experience for the right-handed baseliner, who is among the world’s top 400 but is seeking steady rather than spectacular progress up the rankings. Dad agrees.

"I don’t know how many football players I’ve seen ruined because they got pushed and didn’t develop their skills," said Mackin snr.

"Alan has been fortunate that I think like that. Some parents might have pushed their kids. But I’m not going to see his development ruined for the sake of a few ranking points. To be honest, I don’t think it’s going to happen for him until he’s 24 or 25."

For most of the year, it’s just Mackin and his coach, Peter Mletzko. However, his father is at the end of a phone and travels to Europe when business commitments - he owns a glazing firm and bar/restaurant, and is chairman of East Stirlingshire FC - permit.

Ironically, when his son won in Italy, Mackin was able to revisit the stadium where he represented the Scottish League against the Italian League in 1978.

"I help when I can," added Mackin. "Hewitt’s dad was an Aussie Rules player and he’ll be relating a lot of that to his kid. But you’ve got to be careful not to push them too hard, everyone’s got to learn themselves.

"And you’ve got to remember that what I did in football was nowhere near what Alan’s doing in tennis. If I was a footballer ranked 300 in the world, I’d be playing at the World Cup!

"People who don’t understand tennis compare Alan with Hewitt, who’s only six months older. But if you look at the top 100, there are probably only eight or ten players their age in the world.

"You’ve got to be patient. How many years was Lorenzo Amoruso in Scotland and never kicked a ball. Now, people are saying he’s outstanding ... in Scotland.

"But we’re not talking about Scotland in Alan’s case. He’s judged against the rest of the world."