Nicolas Mahut seeks repeat upset of ring-rusty Andy Murray at Queen's
Weather fears add to demands on Scot's schedule as he fights to regain form and fitness
Andy Murray learnt who his first opponent will be at this year's Aegon Championships, but it could be anyone's guess when the Scot will actually get on court to play France's Nicolas Mahut. Rain seriously disrupted play here today and more bad weather is forecast for the next two days.
After missing the French Open with a lower back injury Murray needs to get as many matches as possible under his belt before Wimbledon, which starts in just 12 days' time. The next five days could provide a major test of his fitness. If the weather relents and Murray keeps winning, the Scot will play every day until Sunday's final.
The match against Mahut will be Murray's first since he retired midway through his match against Marcel Granollers at the Rome Masters four weeks ago. Although the world No 2 has been practising on grass for the last fortnight, gradually stepping up his programme each day, playing a competitive match will be a different proposition.
Mahut, having been out for the game for several months with a knee injury, is ranked No 224 in the world and had lost eight of his previous nine matches before his 6-3, 6-2 victory over the American Rhyne Williams. However, the 31-year-old Frenchman is a proven performer on grass and beat Murray at exactly the same stage of the tournament last year.
Although he is best known for the extraordinary 11-hour match he played against John Isner at Wimbledon two years ago, Mahut has also excelled in this tournament, which regularly brings the best out of him. He beat Rafael Nadal here in 2007, when he went on to reach the final before losing to Andy Roddick. He has also claimed victories on these courts over Isner, Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic, Feliciano Lopez and Ivan Ljubicic.
"It feels like home here," Mahut said last night. "Chris Kermode is the best tournament director on the tour and I've known him for many years. I know everyone from the tournament: the press agent, the practice court official, the concierge, the people from the transportation. I've played here every year for the last 10 years and I love playing on grass."
He added: "To play Andy here at Queen's is not a good draw, but last year I played amazingly well and I won the match. So I hope this year it's going to be the same, but everyone expects him to win here, to win Wimbledon, so he has a lot of pressure on his shoulders."
Mahut said it was to his advantage that this was Murray's first match of the year on grass. "I know he had some practice here, but still it's never easy to start a tournament, especially in the grass-court season," he said. "Of course, it's better for me to play him here in the first round than at Wimbledon in two weeks."
Nevertheless, Mahut stressed that Murray was still the world No 2. "He won the Olympic gold medal on grass," Mahut said. "He was finalist at Wimbledon last year. He won here two years ago. He's the favourite and it's going to be a tough match – but an exciting one to play."
Dan Evans is the only other Briton left in the tournament after Kyle Edmund was beaten 6-4, 7-6 by Slovenia's Grega Zemlja. Edmund, who is regarded as one of the best of the next generation of Britons, gave a good account of himself against the world No 51 and fully justified his wild card. Evans now plays Finland's Jarkko Nieminen, who beat Ryan Harrison, of the United States, 6-3, 6-3.
Juan Martin del Potro, another absentee from the French Open after going down with a virus, survived a tough first match on his return. The world No 8 beat Belgium's Xavier Malisse 7-6, 1-6, 7-5.
Bernard Tomic, who has had a difficult time in recent weeks, went down 6-4, 6-7, 7-6 to Germany's Benjamin Becker. John Tomic, the Australian's father and coach, watched from the stands after being refused accreditation following a physical confrontation in Madrid last month with his son's hitting partner.
Heather Watson, who made her comeback at the French Open after two months out with glandular fever, won her first match since her return when she beat Hungary's Melinda Czink 6-4, 7-6 in the first round of the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston. The 21-year-old from Guernsey now faces the Russian Alla Kudryavtseva.
Watson's fellow Briton Johanna Konta, who reached the semi-finals of the Aegon Trophy in Nottingham last week, also progressed, beating Japan's Kurumi Nara 6-2, 6-4. Konta, who completed her victory in less than an hour and a quarter, will now meet France's Kristina Mladenovic, who beat Britain's Tara Moore 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.
Robson, who plays Daniela Hantuchova in the second round following a first-round bye, was on court in the doubles with Lisa Raymond. The Briton and the American were beaten 6-4, 6-2 by Cara Black and Marina Erakovic.
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