LONDON, England (June 18, 2017) Tournament infrastructure tends to follow champions. As the percentage of American top players has fallen so has the number of United States-based tournaments. This may seem counter intuitive because three of the year’s biggest events are still held in the US, but the many middle-tier events that used to populate the calendar have been traded to Asia and Eastern Europe, where the game is growing. Similarly, several tournaments with long histories vanished from post-Becker/Graf Germany, Somehow, Queen’s survived despite the 77-year wait for a British Wimbledon champion – or a British Queen’s Club champion. The shortness of the grass season and the proximity of Queen’s Club to Wimbledon means this tournament has never wanted for top players. Even so: the principle is arguably visible here: the tournament, which was upgraded to a 500 event while shrinking the draw from 56 to 32 in 2015, has added 2,500 seats this year that will accommodate fans wanting to see Andy Murray, the winningest player in Queen’s history, win his sixth title.
Besides Murray there are four other British players in the singles draw: Aljaz Bedene and Kyle Edmund are in by virtue of their rankings, and James Ward and Cameron Norrie were granted wild cards. At least one of these five will be eliminated before the second round: Murray opens against Bedene. Probably at least one more will exit, since the first round pits Norrie against Sam Querrey, Ward against qualifier Julien Benneteau, and Edmund against qualifier Shapovalov. In the doubles draw, Kyle Edmund shares a wild card with Thanasi Kokkinakis, Domoinic Inglot does the same with Nick Kyrgios, and Jamie Murray appears with Bruno Soares, fresh off their title win in Stuttgart, as the third seeds.
In the singles, Murray is of course the top seed; with Nadal’s withdrawal Wawrinka (whose best showing here is the 2014 semifinal) is second, Raonic (last year’s finalist) third, and Cilic (a two-time former finalist) fourth.
Increasing seating capacity by about a third is an interesting trick for a tennis club situated in the middle of one of London’s more expensive districts. Years ago, Wimbledon, facing a similar problem, was able to expand by annexing adjacent Aorangi Park. Queen’s, like Miami (for legal reasons), the French Open, and many other events, has no such option. Homeowners in London facing such a conundrum have lately been upsetting their neighbors by burrowing underground to create the enlarged spaces they crave. Tennis players prefer open skies. They might be equally resistant to being asked to play on courts stacked like 3D chess boards, although for us it would be a fascinating spectacle. So growth, if it’s going to happen, will have to be squeezed into the existing premises.
Most of the expansion appears to have extended the seating upwards around the Centre and Number 1 Courts. The price seems to be narrower passageways. On Court 5 this afternoon, where Stefan Kozlov was playing a qualifying match against Pierre-Hugues Herbert, spectators were limited to a between-courts walkway so narrow that a steward was heard to fret because someone had deployed a folding seat.
Watching qualifying matches is always instructive, and a wise parent with children who aspire to become tennis pros would do better to take them to watch events on the lower rungs of the ITF circuit and qualifying events than to stake them to seats at Grand Slam finals. This week, Kozlov is the 150th-best person in the world at what he does and Herbert is 75th – and yet there they are, having spent their own coin to get here, trying to produce their best stuff to get into this tournament in front of perhaps 30 people. And these guys are the lucky ones. Hundreds of others have practiced just as much and aspired just as much and been repaid with much *less* success.
Years ago, Alicia Molik attributed her rise from the top 30 to the top ten to realizing that every match turned on just a few points. Win those, and…and in this afternoon’s error-strewn match Kozlov seemed to prove this contention. Serving at 3-5 in the first set, Herbert double-faulted to give his opponent two break points, and although he went on to save three set points you had the sense that Kozlov had, very slightly, the edge in holding his nerve. At 5-4, Kozlov had to save a break point, but three points later took the set with a service winner and another shot long from Herbert. Not much later, the match was over, 6-4,6-2 to Kozlov, who now gets to play Steve Johnson, probably on Tuesday.