Queen’s 2019: Stan Wawrinka impresses against Dan Evans; Del Potro beats Shapovalov
Rain stopes play again: Edmund/Tsitsipas plus two more Round 1 matches conclude Thursday
Rain has plagued the arrival of the tennis grass season this summer.
No matter the location of the tournament across England’s very green—the rain has seen to that—and pleasant land, there have been wash-outs and delays. Just ask Dan Evans, who played and won two Challengers back-to-back before hot-footing it to London for the Fever-tree Championships.
After Surbiton came Nottingham, and rain interruptions on every day of the tournament. Monday was a wash-out, and matches were forced indoors during the rest of the week. In the end, Evans would win his quarter-final on the grass on Saturday, before winning both his semi and final matches on Sunday.
Talking at Queen’s, he saw the schedule as something of a help. He admitted to feeling a little tired after Surbiton, but the delays in Nottingham gave him the recovery he needed. In London, he said:
“Yeah, it actually helped me quite a bit. We sort of packed the tennis into the end of the week. I’m a bit sore because I fell over yesterday [Sunday], so my hip and my knee is quite sore. But that’s it. I feel pretty good. I don’t feel tired or anything.”
And he would need every ounce of energy if he was to extend his winning run to 11 matches: He drew a three-time Major champion and former world No3 Stan Wawrinka in the first round. And the Swiss had a 2-0 record over Evans, including a five-set thriller in the third round of the 2016 US Open and a three-setter in Indian Wells earlier this year.
But the very closeness of those matches, combined with Evans’ form and record on grass, suggested a real chance of success for the home player. And while Wawrinka’s form was on the rise after a severe dip following double knee surgery, his record on grass was perhaps his weakest. He had made the quarters at Wimbledon just a couple of times in 14 starts, and had yet to win a grass title.
But would the wet weather, late start, and damp turf play their part again? For only the third time in the tournament’s history, the star-packed Tuesday schedule was completely washed out. Wawrinka and Evans would have to come back on Wednesday.
The day dawned promising, with even a touch of watery sun. But there can be no early starts to the schedule on grass: the dew has to dry out, and the humid conditions over London made this tricky. So no early practices, either: Play would begin at midday.
The two single-handed players finally took to court after Juan Martin del Potro had dispatched the young Canadian, Denis Shapovalov, though there was a nervy moment when the ‘Tower of Tandil’ crumpled to the ground on the slick grass around the net.
After all, the former Major champion has had repeated surgery to his wrists, and this was only his 12th match since returning from a knee injury in Shanghai last October.
And it looked, in the early goings, as though the exuberant tennis of the leftie single-hander would press del Potro to the limit. Shapovalov was at his shot-making best for the first 10 games of the opening set, firing forehands and kick serves at will. But serving at 5-5, he tightened, put a couple of forehands wide, double faulted, and del Potro broke.
With the big Argentine serving so accurately, there was no chance of a break back: del Potro had the set, 7-5, and with just five unforced errors to his name.
The Argentine carried that form into the second set, playing solidly from the apex of the baseline, firing forehands through the court, and serving to the corners to devastating effect. He picked up points in the front of the court, too, a drop shot here, a volley there, and even that stumble at the net could not halt the juggernaut. He came through, 6-4, in an hour and a quarter, and put himself firmly into the conversation about the possible winner of the tournament.
He will next play the 2017 champion Feliciano Lopez, who beat Marton Fucsovics, 6-7(4), 6-3, 6-4. The 37-year-old Lopez is playing at the tournament for the 14th straight year, and his old-fashioned serve-and-volley leftie game, punctuated by 14 aces, sealed his 22nd win at the famous Queen’s Club in exactly two hours.
But what of Evans and Wawrinka?
Dressed in traditional whites, here was tennis to please the old-fashioned eye, a pair of contrasting one-handed backhands, slice and power, angle and touch, and some big serving, too. Wawrinka began like a train, winning 12/14 points to break and go 3-0 in six minutes.
Come the fifth game, it looked as though this match would end prematurely. Evans had never retired in a match before, but a heavy fall and a shout of anger as he pressed the Swiss on the scoreboard for the first time, made this look like a first.
After Wawrinka helped Evans to the chair for some attention from the physio, they carried on, but Wawrinka thumped a backhand winner for the hold, 4-1.
Then it was the turn of Wawrinka to slip, turn a knee, the last thing the Swiss man needed with his history, and as some light drizzle began to fall, they were forced from the court, 5-3.
Three and a half hours they would wait, along with young wild-card Brit Jay Clarke, scheduled to play Lucas Pouille, and Alex de Minaur, who had a 6-3 lead over Aljaz Bedene when rain halted their match.
And all that with Grigor Dimitrov vs Felix Auger-Aliassmie, Nick Kyrgios vs Carballes Baena, Marco Cecchinato vs Milos Raonic, and the top-ranked Briton Kyle Edmund vs top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, waiting in the wings. Would they ever get on court?
Finally, Wawrinka returned to serve for the first set: It took him a minute or two, 6-4.
Evans faced a break point in the opening game of the second set, but saved it, 1-0. However, it was a temporary reprieve, as Wawrinka broke in the third, and the two men galloped through the rest of the set, both pacing the baseline before time was called. The Swiss was near perfect on serve—he dropped only four points in the entire 6-4 set—and pulled off a handful of lovely touch points into the bargain.
It was one of the most assured, complete matches that the Swiss has played on grass in a long time, showing fitness, focus, and a plethora of winning options. Evans was certainly not disgraced—and perhaps lacked some energy in the latter stages, which is hardly surprising given his antics of the last two weeks. And Wawrinka was rightly complimentary of his opponent:
“I expected a tough match. He’s won more matches in the past two weeks than I have in my whole career on grass! It’s been a tough two days with the rain, but I was happy to be back on this court with an amazing atmosphere. I’m really happy to have won today.”
Wawrinka will next play the qualifying veteran, Nicolas Mahut.
Elsewhere, Pouille beat Clarke 7-6(2), 6-1, to set a second round meet with Daniil Medvedev. Raonic beat Cecchinato, 6-3, 6-2, and will next play Bedene, who beat de Minaur, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4.
However, the Edmund and Tsitsipas match was halted by another downpour with the young Greek 6-3, 3-3 up. They, like the two unstarted matches between Kyrgios vs Carballes Baena, and Dimitrov vs Auger-Aliassime, would try once more Thursday—this time beginning at 11am.
Juan Martin Del Potro has been forced to withdraw due to a right knee injury. Feliciano Lopez thus receives a walkover into the quarter-finals.