June 25, 2020
Andy Murray has booked his ticket to a monumental clash against Dan Evans on Saturday.
The Scottish superstar’s reputation wasn’t given too much respect by his friend and opponent, James Ward on Thursday night.
The 6-3, 7-5 scoreline suggests the match got tougher. In reality it was hard for the favourite all the way through. But Murray prevailed in the end.
His brother Jamie also won alongside doubles partner Neal Skupski. They beat Dan Evans and Lloyd Glasspool 6-4, 3-6, 10-7 in an entertaining grudge match.
That was a fitting reward for the Murray brother who had, after all, organised this fascinating week of tennis.
As usual, however, most of the focus was on Andy as the world follows his progress with interest after such a long lay-off.
Murray knows the fitness levels he will need at Wimbledon 2021 next summer.
Every match along the way will be a useful work-out – win or lose.
As it happens, Murray has won two out of three so far. He even thrilled us all in the fight he narrowly lost against the excellent Kyle Edmund.
But how successfully Andy can recharge the batteries after this third group match will be key.
The first set alone took an hour. Most of it was devoted to a couple of marathon games on Ward’s serve.
They both lasted an extraordinary twenty-three minutes. Both eventually went to Murray.
Andy analysed it mid-match using headphones to speak to the commentary box.
He explained it like this: ‘I kept putting returns back in play and finally broke him. I kept putting the pressure on…But I’m a bit tired out here.’
There were times when it looked as though three tough matches in as many evenings might take too much of a toll on Murray.
His breathing was audibly laboured at times. The temperature was 29 degrees on the indoor court at the LTA National Tennis Centre in Roehampton.
If Andy found conditions hard it wasn’t surprising. Anyone would have done.
But Ward often took advantage. He was 4-2 up in the second set and could easily have been 4-2 up in the first.
The underdog hit the ball cleanly throughout. With more self-belief he could have caused an upset.
But Murray dug deep and summoned what it took to advance to the Battle of the Brits Brits semi-finals.
‘Maybe I’m hitting the ball a bit bigger than I was at the beginning,’ he said, willing himself on.
He was desperate to finish this fight while he still had the energy to do so.
But Ward wasn’t giving up easily as a tie-break loomed. Unfortunately he faltered on serve just when it mattered at 5-5.
Murray seized his chance to close out with a stunning forehand winner.
Considering Andy said he’d be delighted to win a single match at this comeback event, he has already surpassed most expectations.
Anything from here must be regarded as a bonus for Murray.
He has already shown that he is in the right kind of shape to progress to Grand Slam action.
First the US Open, then the French. Australia at the start of next year and then back to Paris.
But there is only one Slam we are really all waiting for – Wimbledon 2021.
Time is on Murray’s side. Particularly if he continues to pass physical tests like this one.
He hadn’t played a proper series of matches since October. Or any match since November.
There will be times when he simply runs out of steam on the way back to the top. But Murray believes he can thrive at the highest level again.
How he would love to hit his peak for Wimbledon 2021.
For now he must take one step at a time.
Murray admitted: ‘It was really tough physically, Wardy played well and fought really hard.
‘I can feel my hip a little bit but it’s not affecting my movement. That was probably the best I’ve moved in the three matches.
‘I’m so pleased I have a rest day tomorrow because I’m so tired.’
Murray is a fighter. On Saturday he will try to show British number one Evans that he is still the best in the country – whatever the rankings say.