LONDON, June 23, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
What a week it was for Feliciano Lopez. The Spaniard strung together a power-packed performance to clinch the 2019 Fever-Tree Championships on Sunday, both in singles and in doubles.
To begin with, in the singles final, the Toledo native, who had received a wild card to play the event, won 6-2, 6-7(4), 7-6(2) in two hours and 49 minutes against France’s Gilles Simon. Then, he culminated his week-long partnership with former World No. 1 and Britain’s own Andy Murray on a resounding note. The Spanish-British duo defeated the American-Briton combo of Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury 7-6(6), 5-7, 10-5 in an hour and 51 minutes.
First came the singles victory
And each minute of the match’s timespan had something to offer to the onlookers. To start the match, it was Lopez who dictated the momentum to his opponent. The 37-year-old kept Simon off-rhythm by not giving him the chance to play points from the baseline. Featuring two service breaks – both on Simon’s serve – the opening set was all about serve-and-volley. If the Nice-born younger player was involved in back-breaking rallies in his semi-final against Daniil Medvedev on Saturday, Lopez’s game-plan saw Simon get frustrated and run out of options to eventually drop the set in 39 minutes.
If the occurrence of the first set looked like it would be easy for the former World No. 12 to lift the hefty-looking trophy, the second set steered the match into what turned out to be a nail-biting finish.
To sum it up: the set featured an exchange of service break in the opening three games. This was followed by nine games that remained on serve, necessitating the enforcing of the tie-break. In the tie-break, it was the older opponent who secured two mini-breaks only for the former World No. 8 to clinch the set, catching his rival unawares.
However, emotionally and mentally, the set was a roller coaster. Lopez’s tactics ostensibly changed. From serving and volleying, he got involved in rallying from the baseline and this played out to Simon’s advantage. The wily counterpuncher started toying with Lopez’s backhand, directing his shots to the Madrid Open Tournament Director’s weaker wing. In an attempt to counter that, Lopez started using the backhand slice to keep the points short and use it as a means of approaching the set in an attempt to volley.
This strategy backfired as Lopez’s tries to hit backhand slice volleys and dropshots found the net on his side of the court more often than not instead of landing on the other side. Lopez lost his lead twice in the second set tie break because of such faulty volleying.
Lopez carried over this tactic in the initial part of the third set but after a couple of tough service holds, went on mix up his game again. The lengthiness of the second set coupled with the triple duty he had to pull the day before had finally proved a point as tiredness began to show on Lopez’s face. On his part, Simon kept the ante of the match up which kept up the pressure on his opponent.
Nonetheless, Lopez’s relentless whacking of his forehand meant he was able to turn it over onto Simon, securing break points for himself – three in the sixth game and two in the eighth game – to try and put himself ahead in the set. However, the former World No. 8 was successful in extricating himself on both occasions after coaxing out the errors from Lopez. A shanked return from Lopez that found the net on the 34-year-old’s second serve in the 12th game ended the southpaw’s opportunity of clinching the title on his first match point. Things soon went Lopez’s way as he captured the triumph in the first of the four match points that came his way in the tie break.
This is @feliciano_lopez’s day…
Can he make it 2 in 2? 🏆
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) 23. Juni 2019
Post-match, on-court, both guys cut a picture of tiredness although neither seemed to have lost his humour while speaking to Sue Barker on-court during the presentation ceremony amid understandable breathlessness.
“I am tired. It was long today. It was long today. It was tougher for Feli. He also has a doubles final to play… Congratulations, man,” Simon said smiling, trying to catch his breath while speaking. Lopez who had a couple of minutes’ rest in the time it took for Simon’s speech was relatively more steady when addressing the gathered crowd.
“I don’t really know. I think the whole match was very exciting except the first set where he didn’t play very good,” joked Lopez. “…He was getting better and better. It was very difficult to me… I was a little bit desperate, to be honest. The tie-break in the end was a bit of lottery, it could (have) gone either way.”
There was unmistakeable poignancy in Lopez’s words as he described how it felt to win at Queen’s twice in three years. “I thought the best moment of my career was in 2017 when I was holding the trophy and talking to you. It was not. It is now,” Lopez remarked after having hoisted his seventh singles title, and his second trophy at Queen’s (after 2017).
Followed by doubles delight for ‘Deliciandy’
Trying to make it count in the doubles final after having played two back-to-back matches on Friday because of rain delays, Murray and Lopez found themselves in a spot of bother in the first set as they went down a break. However, the pair rallied to get the break back in the 10th game as Ram and Salisbury served for the set. In the tie break, the duo quickly dropped 1-5 down but yet again found enough poise to level the tie break and then take it 8-6 for the lead in the match.
However, Ram and Salisbury bounced back in the match in the second set courtesy of a break of serve in the 12th game of the set. In the match tie-break, both teams held their serve up to the fourth point thereafter which it unravelled for Ram and Salisbury. Murray and Lopez went on to bring up five championship points before pocketing the title after Salisbury’s forehand spewed wide.
CAN YOU BELIEVE IT!?! 🏆
— ATP Tour (@ATP_Tour) 23. Juni 2019
- Lopez is the first tournament director to have won an ATP title. German Tommy Haas, who was briefly playing, while taking up the role as the TD for the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells reached the quarter-finals in Stuttgart, the last event he played on the Tour.
- The former French Open Men’s Doubles champion is the first wild card titlist at Queen’s since United States’ Pete Sampras. The former World No. 1 won Queen’s in 1999 as a wild card recipient.
- Lopez also emulated Sampras’ feat of winning the singles and doubles title at Queen’s. The 14-time Slam champion won the singles title at the then Stella Artois Championships after defeating Frenchman Guy Forget. In the doubles, Sampras teamed up with compatriot Todd Martin. The American team beat Sweden’s Jan Apell and Jonas Bjorkman in the final.
- Following this win, Lopez will re-enter them top-100 when the updated rankings are released on 24th