While the form book has been close to being followed in Halle, with a final between Federer and Alexander Zverev (seeds one and four), at Queens we saw a series of early upsets with the top three seeds (Murray, Wawrinka and Raonic) all losing on Tuesday, leaving us with a final between fourth seeded Marin Cilic and the unseeded but highly experienced Feliciano Lopez, the conqueror of Stan Wawrinka last Tuesday.
These are warm up tournaments, they are not always good form guides. While Murray won Queens last year and went on to win Wimbledon, in 2012, ahead of his first Wimbledon victory he was also knocked out in his first match at Queens. Coincidentally, the winner in 2012 was Cilic.
Murray and Wawrinka had both had long runs on the clay in Paris, Murray to the semis, where he lost to Stan, who lost in the final to a resurgent Nadal. So, after a short rest they would have started practicing on grass during the week before Queens. For the big names this is part of the process of preparing for Wimbledon – working out their games moving to a faster and lower bouncing surface.
Some players need competitive court time others less so. Federer took time out after winning in Miami in March and returned in Stuttgart the week before Halle – typically he has previously just used Halle as a warm up tournament. In Stuttgart he started of in fine form against Tommy Haas, dominating the first set but lost in three – however, he continues to roll back the years with his performances in the last week and is the current bookies favourite for Wimbledon.
Each player is different, back in the late seventies, when Borg left Paris for London he spent his days practicing on the grass of a tennis club in London prior to Wimbledon and didn’t play any warm up tournaments – clearly for five years this worked for him. During this time he would work on flattening out his forehand and practicing serve and volley, amongst other things. Yes, Borg was known to come into the net – something he rarely needed to do on clay. In contrast, around this time both McEnroe and Connors have used Queens as a warm up tournament.
What works for one player doesn’t always work for another. The key for the top players is that they are focused on the big tournaments and while the play to win in the smaller events, it is often about using these to get their games in order for the slams.
For those of us who aren’t professional athletes we don’t have the luxury of not worrying about losing while we’re working on our games. However, we do need to constantly think about how we can improve. For many of us there are things we work towards, whether it’s a qualification, a big presentation, a project deadline, etc, and we need to work out ways of ironing the kinks out of our performances ahead of these occasions.