One of the longest-running tennis tournaments in the world has already kicked off its 2014 edition. First played at Queen’s Club in 1890, what are now styled as the Aegon Championships boast the most loaded draw of any ATP 250 event. Fifty-six singles players will compete for the trophy, €90,000 and the perfect Wimbledon build-up.
Check out the draw: ATP Queens Club 2014 Draw
After achieving the Queen’s/Wimbledon double in 2013, all eyes will be on home favourite Andy Murray. Can the Scot continue his grass court winning streak? What difference will new coach Amelie Mauresmo make to his game, if any? Seeded third this year, Murray will open against Paul-Henri Mathieu, a man he has beaten five times on hard courts. He’s seeded to face 15th seed Radek Stepanek in round three, but Bernard Tomic, who scored a much-needed opening round victory over Tim Smyczek, is fully capable of beating the Czech veteran. The good news for the home fans is that Murray is 5-1 in his head-to-head with Stepanek and has thrashed Tomic in both of their previous meetings.
As ever, the competition stiffens at the quarter-final stage. There, Murray is slated to meet the bullet-serving Kevin Anderson – never an easy opponent on grass. Should the South African fail to find his form, however, the window of opportunity could open for a few men who have been quiet on the results front lately. Vasek Pospisil is the 11th seed at Queen’s and in dire need of a win – the Canadian has won only two sets since the Australian Open. Sergiy Stakhovsky has done little of note since eliminating a certain Mr Federer from Wimbledon 12 months ago, while the wildly talented but mercurial Dan Evans would love to make some noise on home soil. An all-British last eight clash would be one to watch.
Queen’s Club’s top seed is Stan Wawrinka. The Swiss has not performed as well on grass as on other surfaces, his best result a runner-up finish at the Topshelf Open last year. After failing to make it out of the gate in Roland Garros, Wawrinka will face another tricky opener in London if Marcos Baghdatis, winner of last week’s Nottingham Challenger, makes it to the second round. If he can pass that test, Wawrinka would be favoured to come through a third round match with hard-serving American Sam Querrey.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Marin Cilic are the leading contenders for the role of Wawrinka’s quarter-final opponent. Tsonga could find himself in a intriguing opening match with the highly promising Dominic Thiem, as yet unproven on grass. Cilic, the 2012 Queen’s Club champion, should get past Marinko Matosevic in the first round and either Matthew Ebden or Lukas Lacko in round two. Cilic and Tsonga have played four times, with the Croatian winning twice on hard courts and once on grass. He will have a slight edge over Tsonga, still short of peak form following a serious knee injury last summer.
Another big name hoping to live up to his billing this week is Grigor Dimitrov. The Bulgarian should have made an impact in Paris, but instead fell to Ivo Karlovic in the first round. The fourth seed has a favourable route to the semi-finals at Queen’s: the highest ranked player in his quarter is Alexander Dolgopolov, who hasn’t won consecutive matches since Miami. There is no shortage of veterans and dark horses in Dimitrov’s vicinity – Dmitry Tursunov, Jarkko Nieminen, Benoit Paire and even James Ward to name a few – but if the former Wimbledon junior champion finds his range on grass he should cut a path through them all.
The final quarter promises to be the most eventful, with big-hitting Tomas Berdych and big-tempered Ernests Gulbis and Lleyton Hewitt bidding for a spot in the semi-finals. It’s easy to forget that Berdych is the only man to beat both Federer and Djokovic at Wimbledon – the Czech has threatened more than he’s delivered over recent years. Nevertheless, he should come through a section in which 16th seed Julien Benneteau is the most accomplished player.
What are the chances of an unmissable third round swearfest between Gulbis and Hewitt? Both are unpredictable – for different reasons – but neither should be written off. Gulbis finally made the latter stages of a big event at the French Open last week, and his fourth round defeat of Federer was full of mature and composed moments. Hewitt, 33, plays a limited schedule these days and is nothing like the force he once was. But he can still turn it on: witness his three-set win over Federer in the Brisbane final five months ago. Hewitt has the tougher route to the last 16, with Daniel Gimeno-Traver and 10th seed Fernando Verdasco in his way; Gulbis benefits from a first round bye and will then play either Kenny De Shepper or Somdev Devvarman. If both hotheads get that far, both the tournament officials and the mild-mannered Queen’s Club set had better look out.
Despite his one-sided loss to Rafael Nadal in Paris, it seems Murray is peaking at the right time. Having ended the famous 77-year wait for a homegrown Wimbledon champion last year, he should be feeling much less pressure this time around, and that will help him play more relaxed, creative tennis. There’s no doubt that peak-form Berdych or Wawrinka could trouble Murray, but neither of those men has been zoning lately. With home support, a kind draw and his game clicking into place, we’ll tip Dunblane’s finest to win a record-equally fourth Queen’s Club title.
Predicted semi-finals: Dimitrov def. Cilic; Murray def. Gulbis
Final: Murray def. Dimitrov