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Neil McLeman: Queen’s Club no longer the gentle warm-up for the serious business at Wimbledon

15 Jun | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
Neil McLeman: Queen’s Club no longer the gentle warm-up for the serious business at Wimbledon

The Mirror's top tennis writer looks ahead to the newly upgraded ATP 500 event, with SW19 on the horizon...

ANDY MURRAY will bid to join tennis legends Boris Becker and John McEnroe by winning the Aegon Championships for a fourth time this week.

The No 1 seed is the man to beat here, but the grass-court tournament at the posh Queen’s Club is no longer just a gentle warm-up for the serious business at Wimbledon later this month. And Rafa Nadal is back in West London and desperate to make up for losing his French Open crown on this side of the Channel.

Nine of the top 15 players in the world will play in the upgraded ATP-500 event which has benefitted from the extra week between Roland Garros and Wimbledon this year – and an extra US$1m in prize money. So this tournament (where previously the big names, who had gone far in Paris, often did not start until the Wednesday) is more unpredictable with the field reduced to 32 from 56 and no byes.

Murray has won here three times in odd years – 2009, 2011 and 2013 – so the superstitious will like his chances again. More relevantly, the British No 1 is coming off a great clay court season which ended with taking Novak Djokovic to five sets in the Paris semis.

And he will have the added expertise of his new coach – and serve-and-volley expert – Jonas Bjorkman on the grass this summer along with Amelie Mauresmo. His whole camp is in a much better place than when he arrived here last year with the Frenchwoman for their first event together – an appointment which caused resentment with two staff he sacked in November.

After playing a qualifier in the first round on Tuesday, Murray will face a Spanish claycourter in the second round on Thursday and then probably defending champion Grigor Dimitrov in the quarter-finals.

The ground staff told me the first player to arrive at Queen’s Club last week was Maria Sharapova’s other half who lost in the first round in Paris. The Bulgarian has had a difficult season after his breakthrough year and has yet to reach a semi-final in 2015 with a 18-11.

But the world no. 11 loves grass – and Queen’s Club – almost as much as his Russian girlfriend.

“I have had quite a few good days here,” he told me. “Coming here brings a good feeling to me.” But Murray, who lost his Wimbledon title to Dimitrov last summer, will be equally keen on some grasscourt revenge, and should then play and beat No 4 seed Marin Cilic in the semis.

The highlight of the bottom of the draw is an explosive opening clash between new French Open champion Stan Wawrinka and wild thing Nick Kyrgios.

While the Swiss enjoys a good celebration, the young Aussie loves the big stage and shocked Rafa Nadal in the fourth round at Wimbledon last year. Another upset is definitely on.

Nadal has set aside tax issues to return to the Aegon Championships for the first time since 2011 as he bids to improve his ranking of world no. 10 – his worst for a decade.

In the five years that Rafa has appeared at Queen’s Club, he has always reached the final at Wimbledon. When he won at Baron’s Court in 2008, he did the double. The strong correlation between strong performances here and at SW19 was continued last year when Dimitrov reached the last four at Wimbledon.

I take Nadal or last year’s Wimbledon semi-finalist Milos Raonic to reach the final – but Murray to beat either of them next Sunday.

17/10Andy Murray to win the Aegon Championships

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