Online Sport Editor Harry Scott-Munro reviews last week’s Battle of the Brits Tournament, where there were positives for former world number one Andy Murray, even in defeat.
Such has been the impact of Covid-19 on global tennis in recent months that the recent Jamie Murray organised Battle of the Brits was one of the first times competitive tennis has returned to our TV screens. The six day tournament at the British Tennis Academy in Roehampton had an unfamiliar feel to it but the standard of tennis produced still served to wet the appetites of the watching public for when major events can return again.
Whilst eerie to watch Britain’s best competing without any fans, it allowed the television audience to pick up the comments of players throughout, as well listen to the words of wisdom imparted by the respective coaches between points and games. The most novel introduction of the week though was mid-match interviews with the players and coaches, allowing fans to understand the thought processes of those competing as the matches went on. Whether this idea remains when Grand Slams and ATP Tour events restart remains to be seen but, for the here and now it added a quite brilliant new dimension to the coverage.
As for the tournament itself, current British number one Dan Evans won the inaugural event with a perfect record of five wins from five, including a semi-final victory against Andy Murray and victory over former Australian Open semi-finalist Karl Edmund in the final. For Evans, it continued the promising form he had shown at the start of the year that had seen him rise to a career high 28th in the world before lockdown. His semi-final in particular was a high-quality affair, as Evans fought back from a set down with Murray to win 10-8 in the match tie-breaker.
Murray’s defeat, coupled with his withdrawal from the 3rd place play-off match with Cameron Norrie with shin problems, shouldn’t detract from a positive week for the former world number one, as he returned to competitive action for the first time in seven months. His first set performance against Dan Evans showed signs of the vintage Murray of old, as he took a 6-1 lead over his stunned opponent. With such a long period of time away from the game, it was understandable that Murray’s level of performance dropped as the match went on. Murray himself admitted that game time, rather than results was the aim for him in Roehampton and he will have been pleased to come through four matches in five days relatively unscathed, as he starts to look ahead to the US Open at the end of August.
It was perhaps fitting that Jamie Murray won the doubles with his partner Neal Skupski at his own tournament, with the event itself and the enjoyment the players have taken from it reigniting calls for the British National Championships to return in the near future, after last being held in 2002. In the men’s singles, the quality is certainly there, Evans, Edmund and Norrie all currently sit in the top 100, whilst Murray currently sits at 129 as he continues to work his way back from injury.
With a singles and doubles event running alongside each other, matches from Roehampton were streamed on Amazon Prime. With no change of ends and a tapping of rackets rather than shaking of hands to conclude the matches, to conform to social distancing restrictions. With players having to collect their own balls and no line judges, it put more emphasis on the calls of the umpire to make the calls, with a second umpire watching a screen for any marginal calls thanks to Hawkeye, meaning there were no challenges allowed for either player.
This was a hugely positive return for professional tennis in the UK and despite the lack of fans in attendance, it has proven that the players are as fit and ready as ever to resume competitive action when safe to do so.