The physical tests have been passed with flying colours – Andy Murray’s back is behaving itself beautifully after three rounds of the Aegon Championships – but now comes the technical examination.
Today, the world No 2 must take on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No 7 and a semi-finalist at the French Open just a week ago, for a place in the final at Queen’s Club.
Murray set up the appointment with a fairly routine 6-4, 7-6 win over Benjamin Becker yesterday. There were moments when Murray looked to be at the very top of his game but, then, there were others when he was struggling to pull everything together – concentration, execution and tactics. But after a month off with a back injury, the Scot was expecting to be a bit rusty and even if he laboured through patches of yesterday’s match, he won in straight sets and it was the result that really mattered. Playing Tsonga will be a much sterner test and should give Murray a clear indication of just how near or far he is from his best.
“It will be a big step up and also a really big test for me, because he’s been playing some great tennis the last couple of months,” Murray said. “He obviously had a very good run at the French Open, and he’s a top grass-court player.
“He’s one of the best in the world on this surface. I have had some tough matches with him on the grass before, so this will be the same. Jo plays a pretty all‑court game. He comes in to net more than most of the players. He’s a tough player to play.”
On paper, Becker, ranked 105 in the world, ought not to have been particularly tough for Murray. But even though the German has not done much in his nine years as a professional, his one and only tour title was won on grass in s-Hertogenbosch. Admittedly, that was four years ago and the tournament in the Netherlands is pretty small beer, but, nevertheless, Becker is at his happiest on the green stuff. He can serve and, more importantly, he knows how to move on the slicker surface.
Just last week he reached the final of the Nottingham Challenger, the tier of tournaments just below the main tour, so yesterday was his ninth grass court match in a fortnight while Murray was still finding his way after his month off.
Scotland’s finest, though, set off at a cracking pace and precious few players could have kept up with him. Becker certainly couldn’t and after just a handful of games, he had learned two valuable lessons: do not try to rally with the Scot from the baseline and do try to keep the ball away from his forehand.
As Murray raced to a 4-1 lead with two clean breaks to his name – and having dropped just two points on his own service, to boot – the German was just about to scribble “try not to rally with Murray at all” in his notebook when the world No 2 took his eye off the ball. Serving from the north end of the court and into the wind, Murray donated his serve with a series of errors. That end of the court appeared to be the trickier one as the wind swirled around the Queen’s Club grounds, but judging where the next gust was coming from was almost impossible. The flags at the top of the stands flapped vigorously in one direction, while down at court level, the feathers of the pigeons were being ruffled in completely the opposite direction. All in all, it did little for a chap’s timing and cost Murray one of his breaks.
His concentration wavered again in the second set and again it cost him his lead. No sooner had he broken Becker for a 2-1 lead than he played, by his own admission, “a poor game” and was back on level terms. When Becker took a 4-2 lead, it did seem as if Murray was going to be in for a long afternoon but breaking straight back, he forced the set into a tiebreak and then allowed his rival just three points in the decider.
“All the matches this week are going to be tough because I haven’t played a match for a month,” Murray said. “There’s going to be moments in the matches where your level drops a little bit. That’s happened the last couple of matches. So, with playing matches and getting, I guess, match tight, I’ll avoid those slip‑ups. But it’s important to sort of go through them and come out the other side of them with a win, and I managed to do that the last couple of days.”
If he can do that today against Tsonga, Murray will know that his comeback from injury is complete.