Murray turns on style as Ward falls

World No 4 hits top form and faces Tsonga in final today after Frenchman ends hopes of all-British affair
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The Independent Online

It was as if one of the club's up-and-coming juniors had the temerity to outplay the first-team captain. "Keep it social!" Andy Roddick cried in mock despair in the final game as Andy Murray blitzed yet another forehand return winner past the disbelieving American.

Murray might never have played better than he did in beating Roddick 6-3 6-1 in only 59 minutes in their Aegon Championships semi-final here yesterday. The first grass-court event of the season may count for little in the overall scheme of things, but Murray's performance, whatever happens in today's final against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, should give him enormous confidence during his final preparations for Wimbledon, which begins a week tomorrow. Tsonga, who has beaten Murray only once in five attempts, ended the best week of James Ward's career when he beat Britain'sNo 2 man 6-3 7-6.

For Murray this was one of those days which tennis players dream of, when everything you try comes off, when you guess your opponent's every move and when the yellow object you are hitting seems the size of the balls you autograph at the end of the match. "Everything he touched turned to gold," Roddick said.

Murray hit 13 aces – at an average of two per game until the latter stages of the second set – and dropped more than one point in a service game only once, when Roddick won two in the third game of the first set.

The Scot underlined his reputation as the best returner of serves in the game by treating some of Roddick's thunderbolts with disdain. The 28-year-old American hit just three aces – one of them timed at 145mph – as Murray repeatedly read where they were going. The Scot's forehand can be a weakness, but on this occasion he used it to crack some wonderful cross-court return winners.

Murray's driven backhands are usually his biggest weapon, but here he kept slicing, with exquisite control and spin. With the ball rarely clearing the top of the net by more than an inch and then sliding almost to a halt on the lush turf, Roddick was rarely able to launch into the big forehands that are one of his trademarks.

Only Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal of currently active players have won more tournaments than Roddick – a fine exponent of grass-court tennis who has reached three Wimbledon finals and won the title here four times – yet there were occasions when he was made to look like a novice. The American was repeatedlyoutwitted by Murray's drop shots and when he came into the net he was passed almost as a matter of routine.

Admittedly some of Roddick's approaches bordered on the reckless, though the world No 10 was not unhappy with the way he had played. "I felt like I hit the ball well," Roddick said. "He played too good today."

While Murray stressed the importance of not get carried away with one performance, the world No 4 was understandably delighted. "Today was just one of those days where everything went right," he said.

Only seven days ago Murray was wondering whether to withdraw from this tournament because of the ankle injury he had suffered a week earlier en route to the French Open semi-finals. He decided to give it a go, on the basis that this is the best possible preparation for Wimbledon. He prefers to practise rather than compete in the week before a Grand Slam and tomorrow will link up again with one of the Adidas coaches, Darren Cahill, who has been helping him since the start of the clay-court season.

Murray started out by moving cautiously but his confidence in his ankle has quickly picked up along with his form. The Scot was on top from the moment he held serve in the opening game with two successive aces.

One break, in the second game, was enough to give him the first set, after which his confidence soared. Roddick held serve only once in the second set. The American saved two match points before dumping a drop shot into the net on the third. "I played really well," Murray said. "When you have two breaks, especially on this surface, it's a lot easier to go for shots and try things out. When I was trying different shots, all of them were going in. The first set was pretty competitive. There were quite a lot of long rallies, but I managed to win a lot of them. I came up with a lot of really good passing shots. On another day you're not going to make every single one."

Was he doing himself an injustice when he said that he had been lucky? "There was a little bit of luck involved, but it's taken many years of practice to play like that," Murray smiled.

Ward, a wild card, had beaten three top 60 players to reach his first semi-final on the main tour but was unable to add Tsonga to his scalps. The 26-year-old Frenchman, ranked 197 places higher than Ward at No 19 in the world, is a fine grass-court player and took command from the start, breaking serve at the first attempt. Ward, nevertheless, responded well and had one set point in the tie-break, which Tsonga saved with a service winner.

The biggest pay cheque of his career (£22,566) and a rise of 40 places in the rankings will be compensation for the 24-year-old, who stressed the need to keep his week in perspective. "I've made one semi-final of an ATP tournament," he said. "I haven't gone and won the Masters or Wimbledon."

Wimbledon report card: He's not shouting yet but real test is still to come

Form Could hardly be better. Has followed best clay-court season of career, including first appearance in French Open semi-finals, with rapidly improving play on grass.

Fitness Turning right ankle again could have serious consequences but has managed problem well since suffering the injury in Paris.

On-court demeanour Little evidence over last week of traditional shouts at nobody in particular, but when pressure is on at Wimbledon expect them to return. Public may not like his angry young man persona but it rarely affects his game adversely.

Confidence Should be sky-high after yesterday's superb display.

Coaching Will work with Darren Cahill, one of the Adidas coaches, this week, but the Australian will have little time to help during Wimbledon.

X-factor When Murray's game is flowing like it did against Roddick there is a touch of genius about him. But can he sustain that level over the next three weeks?

Paul Newman