Andy Murray praises work ethic behind Dan Evans’ rise before first showdown | Andy Murray

Andy Murray has always been the avuncular Scot watching from a distance with a kind eye as tearaway Dan Evans – only three years younger than him – searched for maturity in a sport that has as many distractions as it does prizes. It is fair to say, Murray has resisted temptation more easily than Evans.

Yet, while Murray’s three slams, two Olympic gold medals and 46 career titles give the former world No 1 stature Evans would not bother dreaming about, he will be the underdog when they meet in the Battle of the Brits semi-finals in London on Saturday. Nobody would have ever predicted that before Saturday’s first-ever meeting between the two.

Murray, returning to tennis at 33 for the first time since November in the Davis Cup finals (the 2020 edition of which was postponed on Friday for a year), smiled as he conceded: “All of these guys have been playing tons. It is really not easy coming back after not playing any matches after seven months.

“There’s the hip for me, as well: mentally, it has been a really difficult issue I have had the last three or four years. I would imagine he would go into the match as the favourite right now. My hope is that, in a few months, when we are back on tour competing, that I will be up at that level and feeling a bit more that I will be going into those matches expecting to win.”

Murray has looked good in all his three matches, even when losing to Kyle Edmund on Thursday, but Evans has worked his way to No 1 in Britain in his absence, as well as 28 in the world, more than a hundred places above Murray.

Evans warmed up against the late tournament substitute Ryan Peniston on Friday, beating the combative left-hander 6-2, 3-6, 10-4 for a hat-trick of victories in his group. But he had to recover from a second-set blip, admitting he “lost focus”. He will be able to take no such liberties against Murray if he is to make Sunday’s final.

Dan Evans retrieves a forehand in his win over Ryan Peniston
Dan Evans retrieves a forehand in his win over Ryan Peniston. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for Battle Of The Brits

Evans said courtside: “I played a good first set, lost a bit of concentration. All credit to Ryan. He played some good tennis. It was a dog-fight in the end. Tomorrow, it’s going to be great, first competitive match. Hopefully I come out on top. He’s there to be beaten.”

Murray admires the way Evans plays and said: “I like watching him. He plays really well, moves well. He’s got a different style to a lot of guys on the tour. He obviously started this year extremely well. For me, this week is about getting matches and hopefully feeling good at the end of it, with my hip. My mind is getting ready for the US Open. This is part of that process.

“In terms of playing the British guys, I never really bothered that much about it. When I played Tim [Henman] for the very first time [winning in three sets in Basel in 2005], that meant a lot to me. I was very young at the time and he was someone I looked up to a lot.

“But tennis is a global sport and I think sometimes we have a tendency to focus on what is going on with just the UK and the British No 1. For me, what is impressive about Dan is that he is ranked 28 in the world. I think that is a brilliant achievement.

“Am I surprised he has got that high in the rankings? From where he has come from, with the issues he has had off the court, I would say he has done extremely well to get up there. Now he is there, he has a game that a lot of guys won’t like playing against.

“He seems very focused on his tennis just now and is working hard, competing extremely hard every single week. He will definitely give himself opportunities to get higher in the rankings.”

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