One of the most intriguing rivalry battles each year is not a clash between two marquee Grand Slam champions. Instead it is tussle between the traditional British tournament at London’s Queen’s Club and the now established German event at Halle to lure the top players for their first taste of grass court play immediately after the French Open. Queen’s Club, now home to the AEGON Championships, has always prided itself on having the upper hand and can point back to a star studded list of former champions that extends all the way to 1969 and includes Wimbledon winners Rod Laver, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Boris Becker, Stefan Edberg, Michael Stich, Pete Sampras, Lleyton Hewitt and Rafael Nadal Add Ilie Nastase, Ivan Lendl, Andy Roddick and last year’s champion Andy Murray and it makes an impressive honour board. Halle, first played as the Gerry Weber Open in 1993 and still a force under the same sponsorship banner, can point to just two Wimbledon winners in a list of champions; Stich and the name which appears no fewer than five times and really rankles in West London, Roger Federer. This year Halle has a slightly bigger prize fund of 663,750 Euros compared to the £ sterling equivalent at the AEGON Championships 627, 700 Euros and a lead in total financial commitment of more than 36,000 Euros. But the bonus of being in London, just a 15 minutes drive away from the All England Club, still certainly seems to hold sway and this year Chris Kermode, tournament director of the Queen’s event, will be rolling out the red carpet for the majority of the world’s leading contestants. World no.2 Novak Djokovic has committed to returning to Queens after playing Halle last year, third ranked Rafael Nadal was unable to defend his title a year ago but is down to play this time. Fitness permitting US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro will make his debut and four-time winner Andy Roddick is looking to make it five. Now Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Verdasco, and World No.11 Marin Cilic have added their names meaning seven of the world’s Top 11 players have already said that they will play. It is assumed Murray will follow shortly.
Tsonga can recall eliminating four-time champion Lleyton Hewitt on his debut in 2007 and it is a memory he will not forget in a hurry. "It will be interesting to see how it goes for me at the AEGON Championships and at Wimbledon because grass is a good surface for me,” said the Frenchman. “I feel very confident and comfortable and can play quite well on grass. ”
“I like The Queen's Club as I had some breakthrough results there three years ago, qualifying for the tournament and then beating Lleyton Hewitt. There are many people coming to the tournament, and the bigger the crowd, the better I usually play."
Cilic enjoyed a similar experience in 2007, beating Britain’s Tim Henman in the opening round before going on to reach the quarterfinals. The 21-year-old Croatian made his Grand Slam breakthrough this year, beating Del Potro and Roddick in successive five-set matches to reach the semifinals. Standing at 6’5” and coached by Bob Brett, who has worked with Goran Ivanisevic and Boris Becker, Cilic has become one of the most dangerous opponents in the world. He also likes grass.
“I showed that I can play really well on the surface in 2007,” said the Croat. “My first ever match on the grass was at The Queen’s Club, and I beat Tim Henman. It was really nice to play on the Centre Court in front of a full stadium, and I played one of the best matches of my career to win. I believe I can play my very best tennis on grass and win a lot of matches. I hope one day I can be in a position to win a Grand Slam title, and I would love for it to be at Wimbledon on grass.”
Verdasco is a man in form after reaching the Monte Carlo final last week to break into the World’s Top Ten and he is another returning to Queen’s Cub after playing Halle last year. “Suffice to say, we are very happy with the entry list this year,” said tournament director Kermode.
Halle have announced Federer will return after missing last year while Robin Soderling and Nikolay Davydenko, if recovered from his wrist injury will also play. Long time Queen’s Club diehard Hewitt is switching tournaments to play in Germany this year as is last year’s AEGON Championships runner up James Blake.