Queen’s highlights: Nadal, Verdasco, Nalbandian & more
Marianne Bevis reflects on what has been an enticing start to the grass-court season at Queen's Club
It’s a tournament that blends sandwiches in the sun with a Thermos under the umbrella. It marries finely cut grass and cut-glass accents, squeezes Joe Public alongside top-20 players in its narrow walkways, and where practice and match alike have to dodge the downpours.
At Queen’s Club, in the heart of London’s Kensington, the big hitters have made their entrance and one has already made his exit.
Juan Martin Del Potro fell to the surging talent of young Frenchman Adrian Mannarino. A year ago the Pat Rafter-lookalike was barely in the top 300, began the year just inside the top 100 and by advancing to the quarters at Queen’s -taking out the big Argentine in two thrilling tie-breakers -he will reach the 50 barrier.
He shared a practice court with David Nalbandian just hours before his latest victory and clearly enjoyed the surface. Barely out of the Challenger tour during last year’s grass season, his nimble all-court game makes him one to watch on the green stuff in the future.
The Queen’s schedule, though, shamefully omitted the wild card Nalbandian from the Centre Court for all three appearances in his first ATP event since February when he suffered the latest in a catalogue of injuries.
Indeed, this was his first time on grass in three years, and his practices drew crowds matched only by Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray.
Those who failed to catch him before his exit at the hands of Fernando Verdasco will be reassured to know he was moving and striking the ball with his usual fluidity, despite clearly lacking match practice.
Nalbandian, Gilles Simon and Janko Tipsarevic may have continued their urgent practice sessions through the first shower of the day but elsewhere, the time was passed in an altogether more leisurely style.
Corporates, members and their immaculately groomed partners managed to squeeze their way into the tightly-packed bleacher seating with champagne bucket and flutes and, in due course, the sun returned.
Verdasco has eased his way to a quarter-final place against Andy Roddick with his usual brand of big-serving tennis but has also thrown in more than his usual amount of net play. Verdasco’s flat-hitting, left-handed style ought to suit the fast grass: Perhaps Wimbledon will finally see a return to form for the sliding Spaniard.
Roddick, for his part, has been enjoying his return to what he has called the best grass in the world. He has won the Queen’s title four times so he should know.
But the talk this year has been about something other than his tennis: The adoption of his friend Mardy Fish’s look -just at the time when Fish has switched to classic socks.
Asked what was behind the new image, he said it was an attempt to compete with the compliments directed at his wife’s legs. It’s some ambition -Brooklyn Decker is a renowned fashion model and actress -but a good try nevertheless.
Two other men with the high-speed game to benefit from grass have progressed rather more quietly. Marin Cilic worked hard in a topsy-turvy match to reach the quarterfinals, taking out the fast-improving Thomaz Bellucci in three sets. His next test is altogether bigger: Andy Murray.
Meanwhile Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has had to play few games to reach his appointed meeting with Nadal, losing just one game to Michael Berrer and benefitting from an early retirement by Michael Llodra. Tsonga has, however, looked happy both in visage and game.
Nadal, for his part, almost tumbled out to Radek Stepanek, but more of the top seed’s Queen’s campaign to follow.