Queen's 2018 preview

Queen’s 2018: Unseeded Andy Murray makes long-awaited return; Djokovic, Raonic, Wawrinka shake up draw

Andy Murray will make his return at Queen's Club along with Novaok Djokovic, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka

Murray queens
Andy Murray won the Queen's title in 2016 Photo: Marianne Bevis

There have been trip-ups along the way for the newly-titled Fever-Tree Championships which is held at one of the most prestigious and history-packed venues in the calendar, the Queen’s Club.

But as has invariably been the case, the tournament that sits in the heart of Kensington has risen to the challenge of delivering some of the best players that tennis has to offer.

Many former champions at The Queen’s Club have gone on to win at Wimbledon—the likes of John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, and Pete Sampras. Rafael Nadal won his first Wimbledon title after also winning his only Queen’s title in 2008.

There is good reason why this venue has proved so popular and so successful: the courts in Kensington more closely replicate the quality of those at the All England Club than any other tournament.

But British fans in particular and tennis fans in general had to wait with bated breath for one key piece of news this year. Would Andy Murray’s name be in the draw?

It has been a long, long haul for Murray since his hip began to cause such problems during last year’s clay season. He has not played a tour match since last Wimbledon, had hip surgery, and delayed his planned return in s-Hertogenbosch this week.

When it comes to grass, only Federer among active players has won more: Murray is a record five-time winner at Queen’s, twice champion at Wimbledon, and won the 2012 London Olympics.

And he was on the Fever-tree Championships draw list long ago, but right up until the last moment, after several practice sets on the Club’s courts the afternoon before the official draw, he had not made a final decision on his fitness.

However, come 11am, and the cut-off for withdrawal, Murray’s name was still in place. A sight for sore eyes, then, for his legions of fans and for British tennis across the board.

But make no mistake: Even without Murray, this year’s is a stacked draw. Yes, Rafael Nadal withdrew from his scheduled appearance, and yes, Juan Martin del Potro had done the same, making two of the top four in the world out of contention.

Roger Federer and Alexander Zverev, as usual, had opted to play in the other ATP500 tournament in Halle. So No5 Marin Cilic, No6 Grigor Dimitrov and No8 Kevin Anderson topped the list.

However, Murray was not the only man returning from long-standing absence or injury problems. A late addition to the draw was another Wimbledon champion and world No1, Novak Djokovic—also unseeded.

Djokovic was desperately disappointed with his quarter-final finish at Roland Garros, but he quickly bounced back to take a wild card to play at Queen’s for the first time in almost a decade.

And Djokovic has every reason to be up-beat about the coming month. Grass has yielded some fine prizes, not least three titles from four Wimbledon finals. Indeed the Serb is third among active players for grass titles behind Federer and Murray.

Then there was Stan Wawrinka, down at No263 after his own long-term absence and double knee surgery. He had made tentative returns during 2018, but was on a 4-7 win-loss run. And while his Queen’s record was been nothing to write home about, he was clearly taking his preparation this year very seriously, training at Queen’s throughout this week.

Also unseeded after repeated injury problems were Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios. The former, ranked 35, had played just 17 matches this season, and none since Madrid, though this weekend made a statement run to the final in Stuttgart. Kyrgios had played only 15 matches, his last in mid-April, but played some very fine tennis to push Federer to a final set tie-break in the Stuttgart semis.

Where, then, would these big but unseeded names fall among the eight seeds? And would any of them cross paths in the first round?

The answer was a resounding yes: Murray was drawn against Kyrgios for their opener in a ‘popcorn match’ of the highest order, and while the Briton owned a 5-0 head-to-head against the young, charismatic Aussie, that would count for little in the circumstances. Murray is ranked 157 in the world, and without a tour match in his legs since his quarter-final loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon.

Talking of Querrey, who is a former winner at Queen’s, he was drawn against British wild card Jay Clarke in the first round.

And another Briton, another wild card, Cam Norrie, also drew a short straw: Wawrinka in his first match. The fast-improving 22-year-old Norrie, however, will surely be buoyed up by the Swiss man’s recent form at the tournament: since reaching the semis in 2014, he has won just one match in three visits.

In the same quarter as Querrey, Wawrinka and Cilic, one of the tips for a deep run at Queen’s is the former Wimbledon junior champion Shapovalov, and he also drew an intriguing opener against a man almost twice his age, 35-year-old Gilles Muller—a formidable opponent on grass, and responsible for beating Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year, 15-13 in the fifth set, to reach the veteran’s first quarter-final at the All England Club.

Djokovic came off relatively lightly, starting against a qualifier, but then he could face the No2 seed Grigor Dimitrov—who loves grass more than any surface. The Bulgarian reached the semis at Wimbledon four years ago, and is a former champion at Queen’s too. That, then, promised a stand-out second-round showdown.

However, it will remain the high-profile and unpredictable Murray quarter that jumps off the page. And as luck would have it for British fans, that was the very quarter in which the No7 seed Kyle Edmund found himself—with Murray, Kyrgios, Raonic, and defending champion Feliciano Lopez—and all that without mention of No4 seed David Goffin.

This, then, is shaping up to be the most wide-open Championships seen at the venerable Club in many a year.

Former champions: Murray (5 times), Querrey, Dimitrov, Cilic, Lopez (once each)

Former No1s: Murray, Djokovic

Former Grand Slam champions: Murray, Djokovic, Wawrinka, Cilic

Britons in draw: Edmund (No18), Norrie (No79), Murray (No157), Clarke (No220), Dan Evans (No530)

Round 1 matches to catch:

Top half: Murray vs Kyrgios; Cilic vs Fernando Verdasco; Shapovalov (career-high 23) vs Muller; Goffin vs Lopez

Bottom half: Jared Donaldson vs Frances Tiafoe (age 21 and 20 respectively, ranked 56 and 63 respectively, both from USA); Adrian Mannarino (close to career-high best at 25) vs Evans (into final of Nottingham Challenger this

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