Kyle Edmund might be the future of British tennis, as Andy Murray told a delighted Queen’s audience after beating the fast-rising 21-year-old Yorkshireman in three absorbing sets on Friday – but the Scot is still very much the incumbent.
Ten days out from Wimbledon Murray is finding his feet on grass – although a heavy fall in the second set on the way to winning their quarter-final of the Aegon Championships 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in an hour and 50 minutes caused the world No2, the crowd and the media a few anxious moments. He said later it hurt, but he was fine and needed no treatment.
Murray is two wins away from making more tennis history with a fifth Queen’s title, but he must get past a resurgent Marin Cilic in the semi-finals on Saturday first. If he plays like he did at the start and the finish of his quarter-final – the first between two British players on the Tour since Tim Henman beat Greg Rusedski in Adelaide in 2002 – he should have too much for Cilic, who finished off the in-form American Steve Johnson 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-4.
Edmund played some lights-out tennis to win the second set when Murray’s concentration seemed to waver worryingly, but there was little he could in the third, when his friend and mentor came back at him as if he’d stolen his rackets. Murray hit four of his 11 aces in a blistering finish.
But Edmund will come away satisfied, at least, to have held his composure under the pressure of the big stage against an opponent who owns two slams and an Olympic gold medal – and is 83 places ahead of him in the world rankings. He broke Murray three times and hit his forehand so hard at times that Murray was pinned deep behind the baseline. On Monday, he will move into the 70s on the ATP chart, and said later he feels better about Wimbledon than in his previous three visits, when he lost in the first round each time as a wild-card entrant.
“Andy has got a lot more experience playing lots of slams, semi-finals,” Edmund said. “I’m still learning when I get these situations.”
He was level-headed to recognise, also, that playing Murray for the first time in a competitive match was nothing like the many practice sessions they have had in pre-season training in Miami.
“It was what I thought it was going to be like,” he said. “In practice there is no consequence. If you miss a ball, you just pick up another ball and serve again, or you come back the next day and play. In the matches, every point has got a consequence. If you lose, you don’t come back the next day and play.”
In fact, he seemed less nervous than Murray in the middle stretch of the match. “I was 40-love up [in the second set] and the first point I think was a net cord,” Murray recalled, “and then the 40-30 point was where I slipped. I had pretty much a volley [to win] at the net. That changed the match.”
But not irretrievably. In the third, Murray blitzed Edmund in 29 minutes. The younger player did not freeze – but was frozen out by some electric tennis.
Murray was generous and measured in his summary of Edmund’s performance and his potential. “The forehand is a big shot. That’s his main weapon. But the serve isn’t slow, either. When he’s landing first serves and then getting the first shot of the rally on his forehand, he can dictate a lot of the points. And it’s not like he has a bad backhand. He doesn’t have a real weakness from the back. If you want to get to the top of the game, you need to have weapons, and he has them.”
Murray’s own weapons look in good shape, as do those of Cilic, whom he has beaten 10 times out of 12 but who has caused him occasional trouble. However, Murray has his measure on grass, beating him in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2012. The previous year, Cilic pulled out of their quarter-final here – and in 2013, Cilic took him to three sets in the final.
“He has played well here, and he serves well,” Murray said. “He is a big guy, has a big reach on the returns, too. He is a good returner. If you look at his stats, often he returns the first serve well throughout the year across all of the surfaces. He’s got good timing on the returns.
“I played him in the final a couple of years ago and it was a tough match. I think he’s had a few injuries this year. When he’s fit and healthy, he’s always around the top of the game.”
As for Murray’s pinched groin, he was not as concerned later as appeared to be on court. “When you slip like that it’s sore. It’s not a nice feeling. It’s a shock at first. Most players will stay down for a few seconds. You immediately fear the worst and then, after a few seconds, you feel a bit better. But, no, it’s fine.” Phew … as we have said a few times in his career.
In the remaining quarter-final on Friday evening, Bernard Tomic soaked up 26 aces, and struck 16 of his own, to beat Gilles Muller 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-2.
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