Rankings don’t lie, judging by Dan Evans’s victory in the Schroders Battle of the Brits final. But this week will still be remembered for Andy Murray’s latest return to elite tennis.
The younger Murray ducked out of Sunday’s third-place play-off, citing sore shins. And yet he was still on-site at the National Tennis Centre in a new role as James Ward’s coach for the day, offering insightful tactical advice and numerous deadpan variations on “Let’s go!”
“I am OK,” Murray told Amazon Prime’s commentary team, when asked why he had chosen not to compete against British No3 Cameron Norrie. “This week is by far the most I have done in the last seven months. My left shin has been an issue coming in, and it was a bit sore after my first match. It was best not to risk it.
“For me the results weren’t the important thing this week,” added Murray, who will play his next match in Washington in mid-August after he was pipped by Evans in Saturday’s semi-final. “I wanted to get matches and hopefully play some good tennis. At times, I played really, really well and at times my level dropped quite a lot. If I can get back to the level I was playing at in the first set yesterday and maintain that for longer periods, I will be just fine.”
Murray could easily have been in the final, in which case one suspects he might have played through the shin pain. On Saturday, Evans had received a giant slice of luck on match point, when a touch on the net-cord directed his wayward backhand drive back into the court for a clean winner.
It was a different story in the final. Evans had the match in his pocket from the start. Even though Edmund struck some huge forehands, as he had all week, Evans kept scurrying to and fro and dinking the ball back until he had earned a miss.
Afterwards, Evans agreed that he is probably in the best physical shape of his career, having hooked up with Tim Henman’s former fitness trainer Kieron Vorster early in the lockdown period. “I’m going to take a week off now, and then start to look forward to the restart [of the ATP Tour on Aug 14],” he said, after his 6-3, 6-2 victory. “When tennis resumes, it’s going to be pretty brutal.”
Surprisingly and unusually, there had been more tension in the third-place play-off, as Ward – inspired by Murray in his corner – pushed Norrie all the way despite a gap of almost 200 places on the rankings table. In the end, Norrie prevailed by a 6-3, 7-5 margin.
At one point, Murray became highly exercised, telling Ward that “You need more energy, because it's so quiet in here. And you've got f------ two weeks in Virginia to sit on you’re a--- before you play again [representing Orlando Storm in World Team Tennis].”
From that moment on, we didn’t hear so much from him, perhaps because the producers were concerned that he might turn the air blue again. When Evans was asked whether he saw coaching as a likely path for Murray once his playing career finishes, he quipped: “Not if he keeps swearing on live television.”
Evans also suggested that this event, which was superbly organised by Jamie Murray and his team, could have a future as an annual fixture, played shortly after the US Open in the early autumn to help prepare British players for the indoor season.
There are no rankings points on offer, and the majority of the proceeds were forwarded to the NHS. But Evans said “It’s up to the British tennis players to give a bit back. Next year, players might remember what happened this year. Jamie put on an event for us when we were all sitting around.”
The aftershocks from Novak Djokovic’s disastrous Adria Tour event continued on Sunday when Germany’s world No 7 Alexander Zverev was caught on camera dancing at a beach restaurant near Monaco. It was only five days since Zverev announced on social media that he and his team had tested negative for Covid-19 and added that he would “proceed to follow self-isolating guidelines advised by my doctors”.
The two Adria Tour legs in Belgrade and the Croatian city of Zadar have already been linked to positive tests by four leading players, including Djokovic himself, as well as several coaches including the former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic.
World-class stuff from Evans
Points like the one below illustrate why Dan Evans is Britain's No.1.
EVANS WINS 6-3, 6-2
A long forehand from Edmund - an error that sums up his match - gives Evans three championship points and a long backhand means the British No.1 confirms his status as the country’s best player.
That was a masterclass from Evans, tactically and athletically superb.
Evans* 6-3, 5-2 Edmund (*denotes server)
Edmund is looking forlorn at the moment and it’s not hard to see why. Evans holds to love, backing up the break and forcing Edmund to serve to stay in the match.
Evans 6-3, 4-2 Edmund* (*denotes server)
Evans, as he has done all week, is not shy at talking to himself, geeing himself up. He has a word with himself at 15-30 up and it does the trick and he soon goes 15-40. Edmund saves the first with a fine forehand. The trusty forehand does the trick again to get it back to 40-40. The next point sees the forehand go long and gift Evans his third break point of the game. A great serve digs Edmund out of that hole, but the errors keep coming from Edmund and Evans has his fourth break point. It’s Groundhog Day as yet again another big serve gets it back to deuce. But super stuff from Evans - a drop shot followed by a forehand crosscourt winner - earns him a fifth break point, and he forces the error once again and he is now a set and a break up.
World-class net game
Evans* 6-3, 3-2 Edmund (*denotes server)
Another good service game for Evans - he’s in charge of the final, up a set and 3-2.
Evans 6-3, 2-2 Edmund* (*denotes server)
Edmund doesn’t mess around, his forehand had more width that game and it’s back to two apiece.
Evans' mid-match interview....
“He’s playing big tennis, but not happy about playing more than four or five balls so I am trying to keep him out there.”
Evans* 6-3, 2-1 Edmund (*denotes server)
Brilliant again from Evans. He is so good at soaking up pressure, hanging in a point then attacking from there. He is up in the second.
Evans 6-3, 1-1 Edmund* (*denotes server)
World-class defence from Evans is on display at the moment, he is pinned to the back of the court by some big Edmund groundstrokes before he attacks coming into the net and forcing Edmund into the error. He really is a top athlete. That helps him to 15-40 and two break points. Edmund’s forehand saves the first of them, but another long rally sees Edmond hit into the net and Evans breaks back straight away.
Evans* 6-3, 0-1 Edmund (*denotes server)
Better from Edmund as he gets the forehand working again pushing Evans wide before playing a winner down the line to go 15-30 up. He then has a break point thanks to an Evans double fault. Edmund makes Evans show off his great defence as he powers down big forehand after big forehand the last of which is a winner and gets the British No.2 the break.
EVANS WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3
There are more errors coming from the racquet of Edmund at the moment - not least from his strength, his forehand. The set is slipping away at 0-30. He then plays two big forehands the second of which is a winner to get it back to 15-30. Evans then wins the next two points as the errors continue to flow from Edmund and Evans is a set up.
Evans* 5-3 Edmund (*denotes server)
Another double quick service game from Evans means Edmund is now serving to stay in the first set.
On the run...
Evans 4-3 Edmund* (*denotes server)
Edmund power game is in evidence during that game. When he’s in control of that first serve the intent comes through to the other part of his game. He holds to 15.
Evans * 4-2 Edmund (*denotes server)
Great game by Evans - he holds to 15, having been under pressure his previous service games.
Kyle Edmund on what he needs to do....
“I am getting into it. I am down in the scoreline but it’s not too bad. I am getting some chances, I just need to take them. I need to impose my game on him.”
Evans 3-2 Edmund* (*denotes server)
This match has now settled into a tempo. Evans is trying to come into the net off his sliced backhand and Edmund is trying to imposed his physical game from the baseline. At the moment Evans is edging the intriguing exchanges, he has break point at 30-40. Edmund then fires a forehand long and it’s Evans’ second break of the set.
Evans* 2-2 Edmund (*denotes server)
Evans is 15-30 down on his serve, a long back hand then makes it 15-40 and gifts Edmund two break points. He saves one with a big first serve, and the other moving forward to hit a forehand winner. At advantage he crowds the net and gives his rival no chance. His net game is easily in the top 10 of the world - it’s that good.
Why did Andy Murray back Kyle Edmund instead of Dan Evans??!
Evans 1-2 Edmund* (*denotes server)
That’s more like it from Edmund - that’s the dominant server we’ve seen all this week. He holds to 15.
Evans* 1-1 Edmund (*denotes server)
It’s Evans’ turn to be under pressure on his serve. A drop shot from the British No.1 is picked up by Edmund, Evans tries to pass him but Edmund plays a neat volley for three break points. He only needs one of them and it’s an immediate response by the British No.2.
Evans 1-0 Edmund* (*denotes server)
Edmund serves first, and second point of the match sees a long rally with Evans using the sliced backhand and forcing Edmund into the error. The British No.1 wins the next point to have an early break point. Edmund goes long again - the third error this game - and it’s the perfect start for Evans.
Kyle Edmund says...
On his form this week…
“I am happy I am coming through the matches and playing my good tennis at important times. I’ve played some tough tennis and that’s good having not played a lot.”
On facing Dan Evans…
“I think whenever I have played him I’ve found a gameplan for him. If you’re executing well and committing to your shots that’s key against him. He likes to counter punch and been playing well this year. It will be good and good to have a competitive match like this.”
Dan Evans says....
On thoughts ahead of the final…
“It was tough against Andy, he’s tough to play when he’s ahead. I enjoy fighting out there. Playing Andy helped, he’s fighter and I played really well. It was a great win but there’s another match which is more important.”
On facing Kyle Edmund…
“I’ve played pretty well every time I’ve played him but I am in a better position than when I’ve played him before.”
On possibility of winning…
“It’s been a great tournament. It would be great to win but it’s been a great week regardless.”
It's final time...
Dan Evans is up against Kyle Edmund.
Britain's No.1 vs Britain's No.2...
Andy Murray on his stint as coach and the week
“It was fun, the second set was a high level of tennis. Both guys played well. Cam came up with some good stuff but Wardy certainly lifted his game that second set That is what everyone wanted this week - high-level competitive tennis, and that’s what we got this week.”
Norrie has high hopes for the rest of the year
On the match…
“I am returning well and serving well and if you’re doing those things well then that’s half the battle. I am really pleased with the way I am playing, I didn’t know what to expect.”
On Andy Murray playing this week…
“It’s been great to have him around this week and competing.”
On hopes for the rest of the season…
“I want to keep this level and if I can play like this the rest of the season I can keep building and building.”
NORRE WINS 6-3, 7-5
Norrie’s had a great week here. He’s looked full of energy and this should act as a springboard for the rest of the season and a crack at getting back into the world’s top 50.
Norrie 6-3, 6- 5 Ward* (*denotes server)
Norrie’s energy levels have been high all week and he’s not been tempted to have a Sunday afternoon snooze (don’t you doze off…stay with me here please…) and he gets the breakthrough he’s been looking for…
Norrie* 6-3, 5- 5 Ward (*denotes server)
Ward has really gone up a gear this set. He gets that vital break and set point BUT Norrie plays a blinding forehand flowed by a delicate volley to save and get to deuce. He then wins the next two points to level it at 5-5.
Norrie 6-3, 4- 5 Ward* (*denotes server)
Norrie is stuck at the net basically daring Ward to go over or through him - Ward can do neither and Norrie plays a couple of fine volleys, the second of which is a winner. At 30-30 a Ward backhand down the line goes wide to give Norrie break point. Murray is encouraging his charge, that does the trick as he gets to deuce and then wins the next two points.
Norrie* 6-3, 4- 4 Ward (*denotes server)
Ward is showing signs of frustration - kicking the ball into the net - as he cannot find a way past the Norrie serve. That is until Norrie gives him a present - a double fault - to get it to 40-30. But he then dishes up an ace to hold once again.
Norrie 6-3, 3- 4 Ward* (*denotes server)
Appreciation from Murray after the pair exchange blows on the baseline before a Norrie forehand goes wide. Another really high-level point form the duo as Norrie comes into the net forcing Ward into the error. At deuce Ward is under pressure but he responds to Murray’s continued encouragement and holds.
Norrie* 6-3, 3- 3 Ward (*denotes server)
It doesn’t look like Norrie is going to drop a service game which must worry Ward. He holds again in double quick time and it’s 3-3 in the second set.
Friend and mentor, Andy Murray
Norrie 6-3, 2- 3 Ward* (*denotes server)
Ward has upped his game regarding the serve and races to a 40-0 lead. A drop shot into the net, with Norrie stuck on the baseline, gets it to 40-30 then the point of the match takes place. The pair exchange big hits from the back of the court before Ward pushes Norrie wide with a backhand before coming in and hitting a forehand winner on the run.
Norrie* 6-3, 2- 2 Ward (*denotes server)
Yet another quick hold by Norrie - he's a machine on serve at the moment.
Norrie's mid-match interview
“I got some good rhythm just getting used to playing the points and today I am enjoying being on court. It’s been a brilliant event. I’m hitting the ball well, the level overall has been high.”
Norrie 6-3, 1-2 Ward* (*denotes server)
Ward is at deuce on his serve - he’s only won 15 percent of his second serve points - but his trusty backhand gives him advantage. Then a long backhand from Norrie gives him the game.
Do as I say...
Norrie* 6-3, 1-1 Ward (*denotes server)
Since he was broken in the first game of the match the Norrie serve has been solid. Ward hasn’t had a break point and that doesn’t change here. An ace gets him to 1-1.
Norrie 6-3, 0-1 Ward* (*denotes server)
Murray tell Ward to give some “big energy” and that what he does - for two points at least - to get to 30-0 . But Norrie is a ball of energy at the moment and is bustling to the net at every opportunity. He gets it back to 30-30 but Ward holds firm and holds.
NORRIE WINS THE FIRST SET 6-3
Yet another quick hold from Norrie - he's not giving me much to write about - ensures he takes the first set in just over 30 minutes.
Norrie 5-3 Ward* (*denotes server)
When Ward gets his backhand going it is a joy to watch. He’s been told by Murray to take a few more risks and that shot, taken early, is a sign he’s following the instructions. It gets to 30-30, Ward gets to 40-30 and then with another backhand down the line on the run he holds - much better.
Norrie* 5-2 Ward (*denotes server)
Norrie is in a hurry here. That’s another quick service game and he leads 5-2. He has carried his form from this week - he was unlucky to lose his semi against Edmund - and Ward is up against it.
Norrie 4-2 Ward* (*denotes server)
Murray could do with giving Ward a few tips about his serve. He’s been broken to love for the second time this set.
James Ward on having Andy Murray as his coach
“We’ve known each other for a long time. It’s nice to pick his brains in-between points. If he says it’s the right thing to do it usually is.”
Norrie* 3-2 Ward (*denotes server)
Norrie looks very good on his serve and in double quick time holds to love again.
Norrie 2-2 Ward* (*denotes server)
Ward is under pressure again on serve. He saves one break point to get to deuce. He goes on to hold, that will do his confidence the world of good having lost eight points in a row.
Andy Murray speaks...
On pulling out of this match...
“I am ok, just this week is by far the most I have done in seven months. One of the shins has been an issue and it’s a bit sore so it’s best not to risk it.”
On his form this week...
“The results were not the important thing. At times I played well and at times my level dropped. If I can get to the level I played in the first set yesterday [against Evans] and maintain that then that would be good.”
Norrie* 2-1 Ward (*denotes server)
Norrie played well during his defeat to Edmund yesterday, and he continues that form here. He attacks the net and holds to love (that’s eight points in a row for Norrie) thanks to two volleyed winners.
Norrie 1-1 Ward* (*denotes server)
Ward will be wanting to impress his new coach - he has been part of Murray’s annual training camp in Miami and Murray has been known to send messages of support to Ward having watched his matches on the Challenger Tour. He’s down 0-40 and Norrie responds brilliantly breaking to love with a sliced backhand.
Norrie* 0-1 Ward (*denotes server)
Norrie serves first and this wasn’t in the script. A trademark Ward backhand gets two break points and he only needs one of them - it’s an early break.
First up is....
James Ward up against Cameron Norrie. Ward, the former British No.2 and current world No. 273 will have Murray in his corner. Norrie, world No.77, pushed Edmund all the way in yesterday’s semi-final and will start as the big favourite today.
Judy Murray is a proud mum (no shock there!)
“I am enormously proud, I am blown away by what has been achieved…everyone has got behind it and the camaraderie has come through loud and clear. I am proud of Jamie who has done a great job as tournament director as well as Mary [Greenham], they’ve both done a great job this week.”
Murray as coach?!
Annabel Croft has just told us (us being us viewers of Amazon Prime's fine coverage) that we'll be hearing from Murray later and that he'll be acting as James Ward's coach....Is he a hard taskmaster, will he be berating Ward in a 'Fergie hairdryer' type fashion? We're about to find out....
No Murray today...
James Ward and not Andy Murray is playing in the third-place match. The Scot withdrew an hour or so ago.
Don’t worry Murray fans, it’s a precautionary measure after having some ‘issues with his shins’, tournament organisers confirmed. More on that as we get it...
It's the final day....
Welcome to the sixth and final day of the Rumble in Roehampton (that’s the last time I’ll call it that, I promise…) otherwise known as the Schroders Battle of the Brits.
Today we’ll find out who is the best player in Britain with the British No.1, Dan Evans, facing the British No.2, Kyle Edmund - who says the rankings don’t reflect reality?
While it’s not been Wimbledon - no crowds, no overpriced strawberries and cream, no screeching howls of laughter when a pigeon decides to place its arse on the net during a match (sometimes you get the feeling that some of the SW19 brigade need to get out a bit more…) - the week has succeeded in doing two vital things.
First, it’s given the UK’s tennis fans some much-needed entertainment while the country is still, in theory at least, in lockdown. Second, it’s given the players much-needed competition and allowed them to see where their games are after three months of being trapped in their homes unable to let their competitive juices flow.
One player who needed the workout more than most was Andy Murray. The former world No.1 hadn’t played since November and while he didn’t make today’s final - he lost in three sets to Evans in yesterday’s semi-final - he showed glimpses of the old magic and he is taking nothing but positives from his showing at the National Tennis Centre.
"I've just not been able to sustain a high level for long enough. My game is there, I just need more time to practise and prepare and I'll get there,” Murray said after the last-four clash.
"It was a big step up this week from what I've been doing, and I coped with it physically relatively well, I thought I moved better with each match and was a bit more confident. It was a positive week.
"Some of the tennis this week has been very encouraging, I just wasn't able to do it for long enough in the matches.
"That's something that when I was up at the top of the game and competing regularly, my level was the same throughout whereas I'm struggling to maintain that, probably just with lack of matches.”
First up is Cameron Norrie against James Ward - Murray needs a rest and is getting a rest (he's deserved it) and there are some 'issues with his shins' (more on that later ) then the final will get underway. Evans and Edmund have been the best two players this week and the contrast of styles - the big-hitting Edmund against the crafty, intelligent play of Evans - should make for an entertaining and intriguing battle.
Stay here for all the action from the National Tennis Centre.