In those moments here in west London when the sun has scared away the clouds and rain, British tennis has appeared in rude health, even if the tan might fade before summer is out.
We could learn a little more about the state of the patient from Friday’s quarter-final between Andy Murray and Kyle Edmund – the first at this stage of a competition on Tour between two British players since Tim Henman defeated Greg Rusedski in Adelaide 14 years ago – and it might even divert the fans from their Pimm’s.
But Murray, who needed some of his most inventive tennis on Thursday to see off the second-best player in the country, Aljaz Bedene, in two tight sets – his first match against a compatriot since Henman beat him in Bangkok at the start of his career in 2006 – was not getting carried away. “It’s not perfect just now, but it’s better,” he said. “That’s progress. So you have to be happy with that.”
Edmund was gifted a walkover in the Aegon Championships when the Frenchman Paul-Henri Mathieu withdrew with a wrist injury on Thursday, and he will be well up for his first match against Murray, who has become a friend and mentor.
“In Miami we have been to some basketball games or had days off [from training at Murray’s winter-block HQ] and done stuff as a team together,” he said. “He’s let me stay in his apartment, and we hung out and chatted.
“He’s been the biggest inspiration for players my age, the guy we’ve looked up to. Andy has had all the pressure, all the expectations, and he’s dealt with it very, very well.”
Murray recalled his first big match against Henman in Basel in 2005 and pointed out playing someone you admire can be an emotional moment. “It felt very strange in comparison to when I played other guys, because Tim was someone that I looked up to when I was growing up,” he said. “I always had watched him play on the TV, probably more than any other player.
“When you’re standing in a competition on the opposite side of the net to them, it’s a little bit surreal. I was up, I think, 6-2, 5-3, and then, coming to serve for the match, I felt nervous. It was a big moment for me at that time. Thankfully, I ended up winning the match, but it definitely feels different.”
Murray is, by a distance, still the best player the country has had since Fred Perry in the 30s (or ever), and he built on his excellent clay-court form on Thursday to beat Bedene 6-3, 6-4 in an hour and 23 minutes on his favoured grass. He is in solid shape for Wimbledon, which starts on Monday week – as are Bedene, ranked 58 in the world, and Edmund, who is at 85.
“It’s always difficult to say how good someone can be, or how high they’re going to get,” Murray said. “[Bedene] has a good serve, he has a nice forehand, he’s quick. I don’t think he moves his best on grass, but he’s still fast. It’s difficult to say, but he’ll get better. I don’t think 58 will be his best ranking.”
As for Edmund, he said: “I’m not with Kyle day-in, day-out. But the time that I have spent with him, he’s very professional, he loves tennis, he’s very focused on his career. The last 18 months or so he’s made big improvements, won a number of Challengers and is winning matches consistently on the Tour on all of the surfaces. There’s no reason why he can’t get himself up into the top 20, top 30 in the world, and from there you never know.”
Murray, meanwhile, is hoping to win a record fifth title here – one more than that proven great Roy Emerson, who has been at the Queen’s Club this week and who should act as inspiration for this generation. Emerson was 31 when he turned professional and secured a total of 12 grand slam singles titles in his career.
Murray is 29 and has two slams to his name, as well as every hi-tech aid available – and the renewed advice of Ivan Lendl. If they can combine in their mission to undermine the most dominant No1 of the age, Novak Djokovic, he has a chance of adding to those majors.
The winner of the match on Friday plays either the unseeded American Steve Johnson or the No5 seed Marin Cilic.
On the other side of the draw Gilles Müller, who was guided by Murray’s year-round coach, Jamie Delgado, saved 10 match points to beat John Isner (whose penchant for long tie-breaks knows no bounds), 3-6, 7-6 (16), 7-6 (7). The match featured an appalling call against the American in the second set that inspired a championship standard rant.
Müller, who lost against Nicolas Mahut (Isner’s famous Wimbledon long-match cohort in 2010) at the Ricoh Open final in the Netherlands on Monday, will play Bernard Tomic, who beat Fernando Verdasco 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4.
For those not drawn to the powerful but metronomic game of Milos Raonic there is, for a short time, the added attraction of watching the reactions of his polar opposite and grasscourt tutor, John McEnroe, in the stands. The former world No1 seemed well pleased with the Canadian’s 7-5, 7-6 win over the impressive 22-year-old Czech Jiri Vesely, who beat an underdone Djokovic in Monte Carlo in April.
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