As if a wash-out on Tuesday at the Fever-tree Championships was not enough, the first-round match between the top-ranked Briton Kyle Edmund and the top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas was one of the big opening matches affected by rain on Wednesday too.
Scheduled third on Centre Court, it was a highly-anticipated affair for the home crowds, many of whom would be seeing the charismatic 20-year-old Greek for the first time: It was certainly a first at Queen’s for Tsitsipas.
And out of five British men in the singles draw, Edmund was the only one left who could make it past the first round.
For like his compatriots, Edmund had picked up a tough opener. Cam Norrie was beaten by the No2 seed Kevin Anderson, qualifier James Ward by Gilles Simon, Dan Evans by three-time Major champion Stan Wawrinka, and young Jay Clarke by former top-10 player Lucas Pouille.
Edmund, who reached a career-high No14 just eight months ago, was now ranked No30 after a challenging season marred by knee injury and early losses, and most recently retirement in the second round of the French Open. Originally in the doubles draw here, he pulled out as a precautionary measure, saying:
“Yeah, more precautionary just because of the load on my body, just from training and what happened in Paris. We just thought to concentrate on the singles and manage my load that way rather than having an extra match.”
That he drew world No6 Tsitsipas, an athletic, all-court player with the kind of skills to thrive on grass, was not the most auspicious start, though this would be a first meeting. He conceded:
“It’s obviously tough in terms of he’s played a lot, played very well, won a lot this year. But at the same time… there is no pressure on me to do well. Almost everything is on him.”
The 20-year-old star from Greece who had only just broken the top 40 this time last year, already had two titles this year from four finals, and had won 32 matches—tied with Rafael Nadal for the most this season. Among those wins was one against Nadal himself on the clay of Madrid and another over Federer on the hard-courts of the Australian Open. And his run to the final of the Toronto Masters last year included wins over Novak Djokovic, Kevin Anderson, Dominic Thiem and Sascha Zverev, top-10 players all.
The conditions were predictably tough from the start of their match, and almost every player, from Juan Martin del Potro to Wawrinka, had taken tumbles in their matches.
And with a three-hour delay during the afternoon, it would be a late start for Edmund and Tsitsipas. More rain was over the horizon, the sap was rising as the temperature dropped in early evening, and it grew dark as they headed into the second set, Edmund losing the first, 6-3.
The heavens opened at 3-3, 30-30, with Edmund having a small chance of an opening on the Greek’s serve, but play was called off. Could Edmund hit the rather drier ground running when they returned for the third day to complete the match?
He certainly had his chances, but Tsitsipas held to keep his stranglehold on the game. The two men edged with relative ease to 5-5, and after another hold from Tsitsipas, it was down to Edmund to take it to a tie-break.
In fact, in a long 12th game, facing 0-40, it looked to be over very quickly, but Edmund dug in to save all three match-points, plus three more of them. He even got advantage for the chance to hold the game, but Tsitsipas’s hyper-aggressive returning proved too much, and the Greek converted his seventh chance with a pass that just clipped the line, 7-5.
Of his first match at Queen’s, he told the BBC:
“It’s been a dream playing at Queen’s. I watched it as a kid. I’m glad that I come here as the No1 seed. People love me and support me despite not being British—I like that. I like grass. I haven’t played on it too much coming from Greece. [But] you cherish the grass-court season, you try to get the most out of it because it’s a short period of time you have being able to play on grass.”
He would have a short period of time before his second-round match, too: The space of one other match between Wawrinka and Nicolas Mahut, and then back to play the 49-ranked Jeremy Chardy, who completed his own match yesterday.
But it was in the bottom half of the draw that the upsets quickly emerged. The defending champion, No5 seed Marin Cilic, lost out to the 27-ranked Diego Schwartzman who had won just one match at Queen’s before, his only win on grass in nine matches.
He doubled that tally to reach the second round, and broke early in both sets to down Cilic, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 22 minutes.
And at the bottom of this half, the No2 seed and runner-up at Wimbledon last year, Kevin Anderson, lost to the 37-ranked Gilles Simon. It was a typically resilient, gruelling match by the 34-year-old Frenchman, a match of more than two hours, 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, to set a quarter-final against either Wawrinka or Mahut.
Footnote: Stefanos Tsitsipas went on to beat Jeremy Chardy in a 4-6, 7-6(0), 7-6(4) thriller lasting 2hrs 38mins. He will play the winner of the other remaining second-round match between Felix Auger-Aliassime and Nick Kyrgios, which also continued into a deciding set, in the quarter-finals.
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