Andy Murray passed the latest test of his fitness with a victory over James Ward that sent him into the semi-finals at the Battle of the Brits.
The Scot, 33, won 6-3 7-5 at the charity event at the National Tennis Centre in Roehampton, his first event since November after a pelvic injury.
The three-time Grand Slam champion will take on Dan Evans for a place in the final after the British number one outclassed Cameron Norrie 6-3 6-3.
The semi-finals are on Saturday.
Murray’s movement tested
If his opener against Liam Broady on Tuesday was simply about making a return to the court, and his narrow defeat by Kyle Edmund required aggression and provided a gauge of how competitive he could be, then this match was a test of his movement around the court.
Ward pushed Murray wide and forced him to scamper after drop-shots, and asked questions of his stamina in some lengthy games in the first set.
The fact Murray won the two longest games – a 13-minute sixth game and an 11-minute eighth game, both on the Ward serve – gave him some encouraging answers, even if some of his declarations did not.
“So, so poor” he shouted at one point, before telling commentators during one changeover that he was “a bit tired out here”.
They may have just been heat-of-the-moment sentiments but the sight of him stretching out his hip at times was a very real reminder of the enormity of the challenge the former world number one faces in returning to the top of the sport after hip surgery.
After trailing 4-2 in the second set, Murray stepped up a level to break back immediately and then carved out a second break to go 6-5 up. He set up three match points with a beautiful overhead before wrapping up the win with a forehand down the line.
“Physically, it was a very tough match,” Murray told Amazon Prime.
“I felt my hip a little bit but it did not affect my movement. When I played in November at the Davis Cup it was – my hip was sore and I was struggling to move.
“I felt I moved the best I had done in the three matches so that’s a positive. I’m delighted I have a rest day tomorrow as I’m very tired.”
Evans dominates against Norrie
Earlier in the day, world number 28 Evans dominated Norrie to underline why he is the favourite here, getting early breaks in both sets to seize control.
His variety of shots and improved fitness also suggested he aims to carry on from where he left off when the season resumes in August after being suspended because of the Pandemic Protocol pandemic.
British number two Kyle Edmund was already through after Wednesday’s win over Murray.
In the doubles, tournament organiser Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski squeezed into the semi-finals with a 6-4 3-6 10-7 win over Evans and Lloyd Glasspool in the late match – but even they were far from sure they had made it as they both consulted their phones at length afterwards trying to work out if they had done enough.
It was much more simple maths in the other group for Joe Salisbury and Jonny O’Mara, who progressed as group winners. They were 6-2 5-7 10-5 winners over Edmund and Ward, who also reached the last four.
The six-day event, taking place behind closed doors, is raising money for NHS Charities Together.
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