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15 - 21 June 2020

Fever-Tree Championships

The Queen's Club

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Murray, Lopez and a Queen’s like no other

  • 21/06/2020

  • Fever-Tree Championships

Feliciano Lopez thought 2019 would be his last as a professional tennis player. He had played a world-record 72 successive Grand Slam tournaments during a 20-year career, and wanted to return to play at The Queen’s Club, scene of his greatest triumph in 2017, at least one more time at the age of 37. With four first round losses coming into the grass court season, and a ranking of No.113, he was given a wild card to play singles in the Fever-Tree Championships. 

Andy Murray thought 2019 would be his last as a professional tennis player as well. He had sobbed at a press conference ahead of his Australian Open first round six months earlier, and said he would either try to get through the pain until Wimbledon for one final goodbye, or undergo hip resurfacing surgery that would enable him to put his socks on without pain, but likely end his career.

Murray opted for surgery, quality of life, and studying every move made by Bob Bryan - the only player to have hip resurfacing surgery and return to the professional court. Maybe, just maybe, there might be a way.

The forging of a winning partnership

Andy Murray

"I wasn't sure until a few weeks beforehand when I was going to be allowed to play again. I was going on what physios and doctors were saying. They were giving me certain targets to hit in the gym, strength-wise. Eventually they said: ‘Yeah, ok, we think you're strong enough to go and compete at Queen’s’, but only in doubles, so then it was a case of trying to find a partner. It was tricky because obviously a lot of guys were fixed up."

Jamie Delgado (Andy Murray’s coach)

"Feli was a name that came up, and he obviously had huge plus points, particularly with his serve. He was keen from the off, really excited to play with Andy, and so was Andy. Playing with a singles player who plays good doubles rather than a doubles specialist has its advantages because you can be a bit more relaxed and play with freedom. If you’re playing with a doubles player who is only there for that, it can put a bit of extra pressure on you. You’re trying to perform not just for yourself, but for your partner's livelihood that week. For Andy, in his first tournament back, it was better to take that pressure off him." 

Andy Murray

"Since I first came on tour I'd always got on well with Feli, always liked him and we’d chat at tournaments. At the time his ranking in singles had dropped, and he was talking like this was gonna be his last year. I think he saw it as a nice thing to be able to do - for us to play together in Britain in front of big crowds. A nice memory for him to finish with, if that’s what he decided to do."

Feliciano Lopez

"I was so pumped to play with Andy. It was going to be fun for me to play with him, but also I knew what he had been through to get back to this point, how hard he had worked. I was just so happy to see him back, and I wanted to do everything I could to help him, to win some matches and enjoy it."

The wildcard 

Stephen Farrow (Fever-Tree Championships Tournament Director) 

"It sounded perfect. What a pairing. The problem was that they weren’t guaranteed to get into the draw on their rankings, and Andy didn’t want to take a doubles wild card away from another British team. It went right to the wire, and Andy and Feli just got in to the doubles draw when another team pulled out. 

"We’d already decided to give Feli a singles wild card in mid-May because he’s such a hero at the tournament, a former champion and everyone loves him. But he was struggling - he hadn’t won many matches recently, and it did feel like it was going to be his final year. We definitely wanted to give him the chance to play at Queen’s." 

Feliciano Lopez

"It had been a difficult year on the court, and I couldn’t play many tournaments anyway because I had just started as Tournament Director in Madrid. I lost matches on grass the weeks before against Ivo Karlovic in Surbiton and Lucas Pouille in Stuttgart, both 7-6 in the third set, and knew that I was going to be outside of the Top 100 if I didn’t win some points at Queen’s. If that happened, it would be very difficult for me to continue my career." 

Enric Molina (Agent of Feliciano Lopez)

"It was a very emotional week for Feli and the rest of the team. He loved Queen’s so much, he wanted to continue playing, but he wasn’t playing well and was also planning for his life after tennis at the time with his role in Madrid. His ranking was not high enough any more to get him into Wimbledon, which had not been the case for many years." 

Feliciano Lopez

"For the first time I needed a wild card for Wimbledon, and I wasn’t on the first list that they released. I was really sad, and then in my first round match against Martin Fucsovics at Queen’s, I went a set and a break down. It wasn’t looking good. I just tried to concentrate on the moment, try to find a way back, and I did. There are moments in your career when you win one match and it changes everything. It didn’t look like it from the outside at the time, but this was one of those matches. Everything felt better after that. I knew I had 45 ranking points already, and I knew I was going to get a big match against Juan Martin del Potro on the centre court in the second round. It was sad for him because he injured his knee and couldn’t play, then I won a really close match 7-6 in the third against Milos Raonic to reach the semifinals. The next day, Tim Henman called me from Wimbledon to say that everything was fine and I was going to get a wild card."

Andy's return

Stephen Farrow 

"We tend to only remember how wonderful the week was now, but when you think back, there were challenges all the way through, for the players, particularly Feli, and for those of us running the event. On Tuesday it rained literally all day - it was only the third complete day washed out in 18 years. It meant Andy, who everyone was waiting to see all week, didn’t get on centre court for the first time until nearly 7pm on Thursday."

Jamie Delgado

"We were nervous. He was about as ready as he could be but it was still very soon after the surgery - I think it was only four, five months, which is a very, very short period of time. We just wanted Andy to be able to go out there and enjoy himself, playing and competing, because we knew how tough it had been for him." 

Catherine Whitaker (Amazon Prime TV presenter, co-host of The Tennis Podcast)

"I thought after Australia we were never going to see Andy Murray on a tennis court again. I was in that press conference in Melbourne six months earlier when he broke down in tears and revealed the extent of his problems. Seeing him actually have to leave the room to collapse in tears on Jamie Delgado's shoulder before composing himself and coming back to tell his full story will live with me forever. I spoke to him after the surgery and prior to Queen’s for an interview, and that has also stayed with me because he was a man completely liberated of what had been plaguing him just just a few months before. The oppression of living with pain and trying to defy physiology was gone."

The perfect pair 

Jamie Delgado

"He had done very well just to get himself in a place where he could play a match, but it was a tough first round draw against the top seeds Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal, who went on to win Wimbledon and the US Open later that year. Andy performed well, Feli played really, really well, and they got a huge win."

Stephen Farrow 

"It went late into the evening, the atmosphere was fantastic, and BBC TV moved everything in the schedule to stay with it. It was one of those really great evenings at Queen’s. But with Feli and Andy through, Feli still in singles, and all the rain we’d had, it was getting really difficult to fit all the matches in. Lopez and Murray vs. Dan Evans and Ken Skupski had to be postponed at 6-4, 4-5 on Friday night because it was so dark, and that meant Lopez was on the order of play three times on Saturday! He won all of them, beating Felix Auger-Aliassime from a set down, barely going back to the locker room before the resumption of the doubles quarterfinal from the night before, and then staying on the court with Andy after it to play and win the semis. He came back the next day for the singles and doubles finals, so he played the last five matches of the tournament, back-to-back. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was just extraordinary."

Catherine Whitaker

"In my role presenting tennis for TV, the dream is a story - something that makes you care, something that people at home can latch onto and engage with on a sporting level and on a human level as well. At the start of the tournament, I only expected to be mentioning Feliciano Lopez in the footnotes, and only ever in the same breath as Andy Murray. By the last couple of days, I could already feel the script writing itself. Lopez was somehow turning this wonderful dream into reality."

Singles champion

Feliciano Lopez

"In the singles final, Gilles started badly, I won the first set quite easily and I thought maybe I could finish it in two sets, but in the second he started hitting unbelievable passing shots. It was really tough for me, thinking I was going to win it in two sets, and then finding myself in a final set tie-break, for the third time in a final at Queen’s. I had lost 2014 after having match point against Dimitrov, won against Cilic in the final set tie-break in 2017, and here I was in one again. When I won the final point I really couldn’t believe it. The things that had happened to get to that point. I was so happy. I thought nothing could beat winning in 2017, but this was better. The best moment of my career. I still can’t really believe it now, and it is the reason I am still playing on the tour. I also wanted to say a few words to my wife. She was not from the tennis world, we had met at the end of 2017 at a concert with some friends we both have, and she hadn’t watched much tennis before. This was the first time she was able to watch a great tennis match that I was playing in! I said that it was really nice for me to finally show her that I was a decent tennis player! Then I left my bag on the court, and ran up to the locker room to get ready for the doubles."

Andy Murray

"I couldn’t really sit and watch his singles matches because I knew it would be a quick turnaround before our doubles match, so I was warming up right until we went on court, which I wouldn’t normally do. When I heard the scores of his singles matches come through, with the quarters, semis and final all going three sets, I thought we’ve got no chance because he’s going to be so tired. I thought he might even need to pull out of doubles. But he was coming back into the locker room pumped, with really good energy, saying he just needed a shower and he’d be ready. He ate a bowl of pasta in the 20 minutes between matches and I’m thinking ‘you don’t want to be doing that’, but he kept going and hit about six clean winners in a row in the semifinal match tie-break, which is unbelievably difficult to do in doubles."

The final

Feliciano Lopez

"I was tired of course after such a long week, but I felt so pumped to still play doubles with Andy. I knew how tough it had been for him to get back on a tennis court with the surgery, and how big a deal it was for him. You might think ‘oh it’s only a doubles’ and he’s done so much in his career, winning titles at Grand Slams and being World Number One, but he looked so happy to be playing tennis again and I felt very proud to be part of his comeback. I felt like I was helping someone I love, in a way, to do something important. For him, I don’t think it was about winning the doubles title, it was about proving he could play tennis again. I knew how hard that was for him to do, so I was very happy for him, and happy to be able to help him. In the doubles final, I felt that it had to happen. After everything in the week, with me winning the singles, Andy playing again and the the crowd behind us, we just had to end up winning that doubles title."

Rajeev Ram (who partnered with Joe Salisbury against Lopez and Murray in the final)

"We knew we were going to have to play well to win because they are good doubles players, and you could see Andy’s competitiveness and will to win step up as it went along. His competitiveness is one of his biggest attributes. It’s pretty much unrivalled. The crowd were right behind them, which was quite funny because I was playing with a guy from London and we were getting no support at all. That’s the effect Andy has in Britain. I remember thinking as we went into the third set match tie-break that I’m not sure if it’s actually possible for us to win this tie-break because Feliciano was on such a high, smacking winners all over the place and Andy and the crowd were so into it. We were disappointed to lose a final of course, but it was pretty cool to be part of something like that." 

The championship winning moment

Feliciano Lopez

"Andy was so pumped to win that last point. I immediately saw how happy he was, and when I looked at his bench, I saw Jamie, his mum, his physical trainer and I was really happy for them because I knew how tough the last two years had been for them."

Catherine Whitaker 

"It was completely exhilarating. First the two finals and the emotion they provided, and then later when Andy and Feliciano walked into our studio while we were live on air. It felt electric, the studio was crackling. The sun was setting over the Queen's Club and our studio had this enormous window behind it, which showed the whole vista of the Centre Court, now emptied of crowds, with people already starting to clean up and take away the nets. It was wonderful - the two champions sat there, trophies in front of them, talking about what they had just done. I love a bromance and you could feel the warmth of the relationship between them."

Stephen Farrow

"Even after winning the finals, doing their press conferences, visiting Amazon’s studio, and going to the Fever-Tree sponsor suite to see their guests, Andy and Feli still agreed to come back down on to the centre court to have their photos taken with the ball kids and the grounds staff. It felt like they wanted to share their joy with everyone, and it was really special."

Andy Murray

"We went out for dinner after the final. Normally if I won something, I'd celebrate with my team, but not with another player and his team. For me it was just really nice. His team was so, so happy. We were in the restaurant very late together, his family were there and it was the first time I'd ever celebrated with somebody else, outside of maybe our Davis Cup team. We’ve kept in touch a lot since. It’s really nice. I’d been told by a lot of people that it might not work out, that it's going to be really difficult to come back, and I thought that as well. I’d thought not long earlier that I was at the end of my career, and I had really not enjoyed playing tennis the two years previous at all just because of the pain and discomfort that I was in.  That week I had the joy back in playing, and competing, and smiling. It just felt very different to what I'd experienced the last seven, eight years of my career where during the matches and everything there was always stress and pressure to win and it was straight on to the next one. This time I felt like we both really enjoyed the whole experience, together. It was a cool, cool week for me and quite different to the other titles that I had won."

Written by David Law

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