Ward fires home hopes as Murray gets free pass

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The Independent Online

At the start of the week you could probably have named your price on two Britons making the semi-finals of the Aegon Championships and Rafael Nadal catching an early flight home.

However, this afternoon's programme here in west London will see Andy Murray and James Ward take on Andy Roddick and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga respectively while the world No 1 will be on his way back to Majorca.

If Murray's progress, courtesy of Marin Cilic's withdrawal through injury before their scheduled quarter-final yesterday, and a weary Nadal's exit at the hands of Tsonga were no great surprise, Ward's week has been a remarkable story. The world No 216 beat Stanislas Wawrinka (No 14) in the second round, Sam Querrey (No 26) in a third-round match completed yesterday afternoon and Adrian Mannarino (No 54) in a quarter-final that finished with the light fading fast at 8pm last night.

Ward and Querrey, the defending champion, had resumed at one set apiece, their match having been called off for bad light the previous evening. The British No 2 broke in the seventh game of the one-set shoot-out and served out to record a splendid 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the 23-year-old American, who had been suffering with an arm injury.

Within three hours Ward was out on court again to face Mannarino, a tricky left-hander who had claimed the scalps of Ernests Gulbis, Gilles Simon and Juan Martin del Potro in his three previous matches. The 1,000-capacity second show court was less than half full, though it included the Prime Minister, David Cameron having crossed the floor from centre court, where he had been watching Nadal and Tsonga.

Ward won a roller-coaster of a match 6-2, 6-7, 6-4. The 24-year-old Londoner appeared to be coasting to a straight-sets win when he served for the match at 5-4 in the second set but tensed up with victory in his grasp. The set went to a tie-break in which Ward squandered seven match points – "I was very tight," he admitted afterwards – before Mannarino converted his third set point to win it 16-14.

When the 22-year-old Frenchman went 2-0 up in the deciding set the momentum seemed to have decisively swung his way, but Ward broke back, saved two break points at 4-4 and turned the screw when Mannarino served to stay in the match. From 15-15 the Frenchman missed two backhands and put a forehand in the net to give Ward victory on his eighth match point.

Ward, whose first semi-final appearance on the main tour guarantees him the biggest pay cheque of his career (£22,566), said he would consult Murray about his next opponent. The Scot has beaten Tsonga four times out of five, including in a Wimbledon quarter-final last year.

"It's the best week of my career so far and hopefully it doesn't stop here," Ward said. "I always thought that given the right chance the hard work I've put in would pay off in the end. The last few weeks have been really good for me."

It is the first time in the Open era that two Britons have reached the semi-finals here. If Murray and Ward win they will become the first pair of home players to contest the final since John Olliff beat Edward Avory 80 years ago.

Murray, who will be joined by a fellow Briton in the semi-finals of an ATP event for the first time, reached the last four after Cilic pulled out shortly before their quarter-final with an ankle injury. The Scot continued with a practice session, only 15 minutes of which were spent outdoors because of rain, and had further treatment on his own ankle injury.

"I would rather have played today and got another match on the grass but it wasn't to be," Murray said. "I just have to take this as a rest day, which in some ways is probably a good thing."

At least Cilic's withdrawal saved Murray the frustration of spending much of the day wondering when he would get on court. Rain has cut a swathe through the tournament schedule this week and with the weather again a factor Murray's match had already been switched to court one in an attempt to complete the programme.

Roddick, who is aiming to win the tournament for a record fifth time, had to dodge the showers before beating Spain's Fernando Verdasco 6-2, 6-2. Murray has won six of his nine meetings with the American, but Roddick won their most recent match in the Wimbledon semi-finals two years ago.

Nadal faded fast towards the end against Tsonga, losing 6-7, 6-4, 6-1. The Spaniard has looked exhausted ever since he arrived here on Monday, just 24 hours after winning the French Open. "After losing the second set I probably lost my concentration," the world No 1 said afterwards. "In the first game I was a little tired mentally. I've played a lot of matches in a row."

Having pulled out of the doubles tournament, Nadal said he was looking forward to a few days at home. "I'll be with friends and family, I'll play some golf, relax, maybe go fishing," he said. "It will be good to have a little bit of a distraction mentally."

Elena Baltacha reached the semi-finals of the Aegon Challenge in Nottingham with a 6-1, 6-3 victory over the Czech Republic's Lucie Hradecka, the world No 41. Today's semi-finals at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham will see Ana Ivanovic play Daniela Hantuchova, while Shuai Peng will take on Sabine Lisicki. Heather Watson, the British No 2, has been awarded a wild card into the main draw for next week's Aegon International at Eastbourne.