Those lucky enough to watch the semi-finals of the Battle of the Brits sponsored by Schroders, were served two excellent matches befitting the event’s title played out behind closed doors at the NTC at Roehampton under strict Covid-19 safety regulations.
At the start, he was flawless, overpowered me. His serve has been amazing, back to normal since his hip surgery. And he can work on the other parts of his game. He was playing big tennis on the big points. That’s why he’s been as good as he has. I just hung in there Dan Evans
Both matches saw the eventual victors fight their way back to reach the final which features the two players sitting at the top of the national rankings, eager to establish themselves at the top dog.
Both Dan Evans and Kyle Edmund, respectively British No. 1 and 2, came through the group stages unbeaten and in both cases their semi-final opponents came close to ending those runs.
In the first semi-final the spotlight was very much on Andy Murray. Could he contain the exuberant play of Evans? Would his lack of match-fitness let him down? Would he move as well as he has in the past?
Despite the questions and Evan’s word ranking of 28, Murray was the public favourite and as he came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders to completely overwhelm his opponent, it looked as if he would live up to his reputation despite not having played a competitive match since last November before this week.
His serving was powerful and accurate, his movement excellent with no sign of any hindrance from the hip related problems he has suffered since his operation early 2019.
Evans withstood the barrage winning just one game in the opening set but managed to lift his game and take advantage of Murray’s lack of fitness to work his way back into the match, level and force a match tie break which again, Murray dominated to start with only for his game to waver towards the end as Evans edged him out 1-6 6-3 10-8.
“I didn’t do much wrong. I’m immensely proud to have been on the court with Andy in a semi-final,” Evans said of his first win over the three-time grand slam champion. “I was very happy with the way I played, the way I moved. I was pretty resilient.
“At the start, he was flawless, overpowered me. His serve has been amazing, back to normal since his hip surgery. And he can work on the other parts of his game. He was playing big tennis on the big points. That’s why he’s been as good as he has. I just hung in there.”
Murray, who had sported a rather scraggy beard during the week, was clean shaven for the occasion, had also lost a tight group match to Kyle Edmund, and said following his second defeat of the week: “Dan plays a little bit differently to Kyle but when you’re playing at the highest level, you have to be able to adapt. It’s got me a lot of wins over the years.
“Playing matches on the Tour is very different to this, with coaches on court. Also we played behind closed doors and it’s maybe good to get used to that. There are things in a slam or a Tour event I’d certainly do differently out there. But from a physical perspective, I did really well.”
Edmund was clear favourite to win the second semi-final.
His powerful forehand, now backed up by an equally effective backhand and howitzer serves, he looked set to make light work of the British No3, Cameron Norrie but again, it was the underdog which drew the first blood.
His serve held out over the whole match only to be outsmarted in the opening set tie break which he lost having been confounded by Norrie’s variation of serve and solid ground strokes, especially down the line.
Like the earlier much, he hung on and quickly took advantage of a lowering of levels from the other side of the net to level at a set all to take it into another exciting match-tiebreaker where he clinched his place in the final 6-7(3) 6-4 10-8.
“Evo is the British No 1 and it’s going to be tough,” Edmund commented on his prospects against Evans on Sunday. “I’m finding ways – perhaps not the best executed – but getting there.
“I felt he was a bit happier with his game than I was,” the British No.2 continued. “Had to dig deep, get my energy up. The close games are key when you look back. My backhand winners at 8-all [in the tie-break] was not too precise but it came off – also for match point. Had to work for it.”
Psychologically, Edmund has the edge over Evans having beaten him on all their three previous occasions but both players are now showing a new found resilience as evidenced in their successes over the week, and more specifically, their respective semi-final wins.