Make no mistake: after three days of competition, Dan Evans is the prohibitive favorite to capture this week’s title at the Battle of the Brits, though will now have to get past Andy Murray to give himself a shot.
Before the coronavirus flipped the tennis world upside down, the 30-year-old boasted an 11-5 record in climbing to a career-high ranking of No. 28. Great Britain’s top-ranked player has clearly picked up where he left off. A day after dismantling Jay Clarke, 6-3, 6-1, Evans outclassed Cam Norrie, 6-3, 6-3, to top the Greg Rusedski Group and confirm his place in the semifinals.
“I played really well, it was a high level match, according to a few people (Norrie) was favored today,” Evans said with a smile.
Not known as the fittest player on tour, Evans has been making the most of the hiatus. “The hard work in the gym gives you mental toughness, knowing you’ve done the work off the court.” Evans' work off court paid major dividends today as high temperatures across England turned the air conditioning-less indoor court into a hotbox.
Dan Evans can do no wrong at this week's Battle of the Brits. (Getty Images)
Though the event doesn't have points or a historical legacy on offer, you wouldn’t know it by watching. Professional tennis is finally on the horizon and the players are taking this opportunity for competitive match play, as well as national bragging rights, as seriously as a heart attack.
Andy Murray impressed yet again in his final singles match of the day to seal his semifinal showdown with Evans. The three-time major champion defeated James Ward, 6-3, 7-5, to clinch second place in the Tim Henman Group behind Kyle Edmund, who edged Murray in their encounter Wednesday.
Ward’s primary weapons are his blistering first serve and rock solid backhand. But no matter how good your backhand is, it’s unlikely to be as good as Murray’s. One of the game’s all-time great returners, Murray was relatively unbothered by Ward’s pace on serve.
"Physically, it was a pretty tough match," Murray said. "I'm feeling my hip a little bit but it's not really effecting my movement... I'm delighted that I've got a rest day tomorrow because I'm very, very tired."
Andy Murray and James Ward take a knee in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement. (Getty Images)
The third day of competition kicked off with a battle of tournament alternates. World no. 397 Ryan Peniston replaced rising star Jack Draper before the event, while 2019 NCAA champion Paul Jubb was a last-minute substitution for Clarke, who withdrew yesterday due to a knee injury. Jubb came out hot, but due to the lack of serious match play, he admittedly struggled to close the deal, before ultimately defeating Peniston, 6-2, 6-7 (4) [10-6].
“I got the call yesterday afternoon and I was up for the challenge,” Jubb said. “I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity and I’m glad I did. It wasn’t pretty at the end. Match tightness showed. I just had to knuckle down play the right way, play aggressive, I’d rather lose playing aggressive with no regrets than tentative.”
Paul Jubb's talent was on full display during his win over Ryan Peniston. (Getty Images)