After victories over three of the game’s journeymen, Andy Murray faces a major step up in class here on Saturday afternoon in the semi-finals of the Aegon Championships.
The Scot booked his place in the last four with a 6-4, 7-6 victory over Germany’s Benjamin Becker, his third successive opponent ranked outside the world’s top 60, but now takes on Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the world No 7.
“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’s a top grass-court player, one of the best in the world on this surface.”
Murray, who beat Tsonga in the final here two years ago and has twice got the better of the Frenchman at Wimbledon, has been more than happy with his comeback this week after a month on the sidelines nursing the lower-back injury which forced him to miss the French Open.
“My back’s been very good, the best it’s been for a while,” he said after yesterday’s victory. “Obviously, when you start feeling things, that tends to be when you hold back, but this week that’s not been the case.”
Murray dropped his serve three times and went within two points of being taken into a deciding set, but stressed: “All the matches this week are going to be tough because I haven’t played a match for a month. There are 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 match-tight I guess I’ll avoid those slip-ups. But it’s important to go through them and come out the other side of them with a win.’
Although Becker is enjoying a good grass-court season, his world ranking is a fair reflection of his abilities. The surname and nationality are about the only attributes the 31-year-old shares with Boris Becker, who won the first of his four titles here at the age of 17 before taking Wimbledon by storm.
The sun came out at last today but was accompanied by a stiff wind, which made serving particularly tricky at one end. Murray won the first set with something to spare, his only lapse coming when he dropped serve when leading 4-1. Becker, who took a time-out for treatment on his right shoulder at the end of the first set, played much better in the second. Murray served his way out of trouble at 4-5 and 15-30 and dominated the tie-break, which he won 7-3.
The other semi-final will bring together Marin Cilic, the defending champion, and Lleyton Hewitt, who has won the title here four times. Cilic beat Tomas Berdych, the No 2 seed, 7-5, 7-6, while Hewitt rolled back the years to beat the world No 8, Juan Martin del Potro, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2. The 32-year-old Australian is now No 82 in the world rankings but is still a fine player on grass.
Hewitt picks and chooses his tournaments these days. “It’s been a long wait for me,” he said. “Pretty much once I was out of the Australian Open I was focused on this tournament and Wimbledon.”