Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
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The seeds continued to tumble at the Aegon Championships, but Grigor Dimitrov is taking no notice. The 2014 Wimbledon semi-finalist is one of two former champions left in the Queen’s Club draw after surging back from a set down to beat Julien Benneteau 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. Only he, Marin Cilic and Tomas Berdych are left in the draw with a seeding against their name.
Having raced through against Ryan Harrison on day one, Dimitrov admitted this was far from his best performance, opening the match with three double faults in the first game to hand the Frenchman the initiative. There was a time when such a start might have set the tone for the rest of his match, but the Bulgarian has matured since his breakthrough 2014 season, and was glad to find a way to win when it mattered.
“I love the process right now,” said Dimitrov, who will face Daniil Medvedev or Thanasi Kokkinakis in the quarterfinals. “I'm excited every day to come to the courts, and I think this itself adds up a lot of value to me. And if it doesn't happen now, I know in the long term it's going to come my way.”
The parallels with his breakout 2014 season are striking. Then as now, he arrived at Queen’s with two titles to his name and his ranking on the cusp of the top 10. That year he reached the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, where he went down in four sets to Rafael Nadal; this year he went one better, battling the Spaniard for five sets and almost five hours in the semi-finals.
It is three years since he backed up victory at the Aegon Championships with his run to the semi-finals at Wimbledon, but Dimitrov is loathe to look back, focusing on the here and now, and his goal for the season: reaching the ATP Finals in November.
“I don't compare tournaments in the past to now,” Dimitrov insists. “The point is to feel good every week. We all know how hard it is to try to compete week in and week out, especially the level that we are playing right now. Everybody is playing well.
“I think I'm improving, which is the point. In Australia, early matches, I didn't think I played good, but with each match my level was increasing. My confidence was getting better. My game overall was just increasing by each match. So I'm trying to do the same thing every tournament. Now I just look forward for every match I have.”
Comparisons may not be his thing, but Dimitrov is adamant he has learned lessons from his 2014 success, and particularly the difficulties he faced trying to replicate that form over the next two seasons.
“I was kind of riding the wave and I wasn't really prepared enough to keep on maintaining that,” said the No.6 seed. “And I think that first year was – I think it took a lot out of me physically and mentally. Coming to the year after, I didn't really like find the right way to start well. And I had other changes outside of the court.
“Yeah, there are tough moments, and, yeah, I think I'm tougher than anything that I had to overcome. So I'm proud of myself, I'm proud of my team, the people that have been close to me, my family. This is something that I don't want to forget.”
Dimitrov and 2012 champion Cilic are the only players with experience of lifting the grand old Queen’s trophy, but the Bulgarian warned against reading too much into results for the likes of Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic, who all exited in the first round on Tuesday,
“I don't think we should be that hard on the situation. I believe all these players that are out right now, they will be extra motivated when Wimbledon comes around. They are going to have extra days to be on the court, extra days to rehab or to work on certain, on their tools.”
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is one player with extra days to fill after, by his reckoning, running into the wrong opponent. With his swinging lefty serve and attacking game, ’s-Hertogenbosch champion Gilles Muller always promised to be a tough opponent for the No.5 seed – when the duo met in the first round at The Championships two years ago, Tsonga prevailed in five sets.
On Wednesday, the Luxembourger turned the tables on Tsonga to claim his sixth successive win on grass in 2017, making the Frenchman the second player to fall to a left-hander on Wednesday after Donald Young’s 6-3, 6-4 win over Viktor Troicki.
Tsonga wore a resigned smile after the match. Asked what went wrong for him in the day’s second showdown on centre court, he said simply: “My opponent.”
“He just played good tennis,” said the 32-year-old, who plans to continue practicing at Queen’s this week before heading to Wimbledon. “Sometimes you cannot do anything, because the guy in front of you is playing well and he's doing the right things to make you play in a bad way. And that's it.
“On the grass court you expect to play that kind of player – they wait until this moment to play their best tennis. And Gilles is one of them. When they play on grass, they play better.
“For me, it was good to play against him today. It was a real challenge. Unfortunately, I didn't play enough good to beat him, but it's good. I played two matches here. That's life. I will continue next week to practice and try to play better in Wimbledon.”
Berdych avoided a similar fate in the match of the day on centre court, clinching victory over precocious Canadian qualifier Denis Shapovalov with the only break of the match – and the Czech’s only break point – in the final game to win 7-6(4), 6-7(4), 7-5.
It was a harsh but valuable lesson in making every point count for the junior Wimbledon singles champion, who will feature in his first Grand Slam main draw after receiving a wild card for The Championships in 2017. The 18-year-old, who knocked out Kyle Edmund in the first round after qualifying for the main draw, won plenty of fans with his daring display and fearless shot-making, and will be one to watch at the All England Club.
“No. No, no, no – I really want to go to Wimbledon!”
Good news for Tsonga fans – his grass court plans may have changed a little after today’s defeat, but not that much…