Queen’s 2018: Andy Murray edged out by Nick Kyrgios, but signs are good after a year away
Andy Murray is beaten by Nick Kyrgios in his Queen's Club opener on his return to action
The practice sessions had been jam packed by those lucky enough and early enough to get a spot overlooking one of the outlying courts at the Queen’s Club these bright mornings.
The reason was simple. Two former world No1s have been practising their hearts out on the immaculate lawns in Kensington, and here was a chance to see three-time Wimbledon champion Novak Djokovic and two-time Wimbledon and Olympic champion Andy Murray almost within touching distance.
For home fans, the return of Murray had been a story of conjecture, hope, disappointment, and some concern. It is a year since he exited Wimbledon, when world No1, at the quarter-final stage with a hip problem that would persist through the rest of the year.
After an aborted attempt to return in Australia, he resorted to hip surgery. By the time he arrived at Queen’s, then, it was a year since his last tournament, and he had not even felt ready to compete at s-Hertogenbosch last week as planned.
Right up until the last minute, after some rigorous time on Queen’s courts on Friday, he decided he would play:
“It’s obviously exciting. I have always enjoyed playing here. Last year was kind of the start of a tough year for me. I physically didn’t feel good coming in and that was tough for me. But I’ve got lots of great memories from here, from winning the tournament and playing here the first time when I was 18.
“I’m sure I’ll have the same nerves and stuff as I did all those years ago. Having missed 11 months, coming back, I’m expecting to be very nervous when I go back out there. But it’s a cool place to come back.”
And Murray has been one of the best on the tour when it comes to grass, second only to Roger Federer, but his long absence had pushed him down to 157 in the ranks, and he had the misfortune to draw another unseeded man making his return from repeated injury problems, Nick Kyrgios.
The Australian had already shown his return to form by pushing Federer to the limit in the Stuttgart semis this weekend. And although he had lost all five previous matches against his friend, he talked up his chances this time around.
“I’m going to go out there and play like I always play. I want to serve big and play big and try and win. I’m going to go out there and do the same thing. If I win, I win. If I lose, I lose.”
And it would be a rather bizarre encounter, tapping into that give-or-take attitude of Kyrgios. Not on Murray’s side, it should be said: he opened with a forehand winner and fought off two break points to hold the first game. He was in this to win, not to go through the motions.
In the second game, Kyrgios delivered two tweeners, one entirely for show, but he held. However, as the set went on, Murray dug in, survived more break points for 3-2, while Kyrgios looked flat and lacking energy. The sixth game summed it up: Now a 142mph ace, now a huge double fault, now a drop-shot winner, and finally a double fault to concede the break, 2-4.
He then threw in two double faults to give up another break and the set, 6-2: In truth, he looked as though he was struggling physically, and had little interest in being here.
All that changed in the second set as Kyrgios’s charismatic tennis began to flow—in patches. The two men exchanged breaks, but then the Australian, throwing in drops, squash style slices on both wings, and big serves, broke again and fended off the break back.
But Murray was in this to win, and the crowd lifted him with every winner he hit. The longer the match went on, the more freely he played, perhaps more confident that his body could cope, and he broke to level at 4-4. It would go to a tie-break.
Kyrgios shone again, went 3-0, Murray levelled at 4-4, but then the young Aussie forced the pace and the errors from Murray to seal the set in style, 7-6(4). It would go to a decider.
Gradually, Murray began to slow a little, and the aches and pains crept into his body language. He pumped himself up, roared himself on, and the crowd did their part. But it would take almost an hour for the decider to unfold, as Kyrgios also slowed right down, looked weary and sore. Yet he kept going, kept throwing down the big serves, and kept finding some punishing drops and angles.
Murray held off a big challenge to hold for 5-5, but he could not do it again to force a tie-break. He double faulted on match point, an unfortunate conclusion to what had been a gutsy and determined fight from the Briton.
So the five-time Queen’s champion will not be here come final weekend this time around, though in truth, he was the last who expected that he would be. But he is back on a tennis court and competing at a good level. Time will tell what the toll has been of the two hours 39 minutes, but it should set him up nicely for a decent showing at Wimbledon. Certainly, Kyrgios thought so:
“If he’s feeling good, then I don’t see any reason why not. There is only a handful of guys who can really play on the grass, anyway. He’s got for sure a good chance.”
For Kyrgios, the wayward, unpredictable but crowd-pleasing Australian, it could next be another Briton, and the current top-ranked one. Kyle Edmund did not take to court against Ryan Harrison until the shadows were long and the crowds thinning, while fellow Brit Daniel Evans was last on Court 1.
Elsewhere, there were mixed fortunes for other players. Milos Raonic, who advanced, 6-1, 3-1 when his opponent retired, then pulled out himself with a shoulder problem—a blow to the Canadian who has, time and again, missed tournaments with injury problems.
It opened the door for defending champion, the unseeded 36-year-old Feliciano Lopez to advance to the quarter-finals after he came through a tough test against No4 seed David Goffin, 6-3, 6-7(7), 6-3.
Jeremy Chardy continued to build on his good form with a win over Tim Smyczek, 6-2, 6-4. The 31-year-old Frenchman arrived here with the Surbiton Challenger title and a final run in s-Hertogenbosch, where he lost to compatriot Richard Gasquet. He will next face Daniil Medvedev, who beat No6 seed Jack Sock.
Kyrgios admitted that he twinged his hip early in today’s match—reason enough for his unpredictable tennis, then—but this was his first win in his fourth visit to Queen’s. So reason enough to be upbeat about his own chances come Wimbledon if his fitness is not a concern. After all, he was a quarter-finalist there at his first attempt, while still a teenager.
“I feel like I’m in good form on the grass. My timing, my hands and stuff is all good. I have just got to keep staying healthy, hopefully, and I’ll be fine.”
And remember, he has played the two most successful active players on grass within days of each other. He came very close to beating Federer in Germany, and he dug in just enough to put out Murray on home soil. In short, he will be dangerous wherever he falls in the draw.