By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Spaniard Feliciano Lopez spent so much time on Queen’s Club’s center court over a memorable weekend it would be no surprise if he had pitched a tent and slept there on Saturday night.
By the end of it the 37-year-old wildcard had completed one of the most remarkable weeks of his career by beating Gilles Simon in a gripping singles final, then helping British hero Andy Murray cap his return from injury with the doubles crown.
A photo of Murray leaping for joy after he and Lopez completed a 7-6(6) 5-7 10-5 over Briton Joe Salisbury and American Rajeev Ram will grace the back pages.
But while the 32-year-old twice Wimbledon champion’s return from career-saving hip surgery five months ago is cause for celebration, the day belonged to elegant left-hander Lopez who bizarrely played in the last five matches of the tournament.
With a ranking down at 113, only three Tour wins to his name all year and talk of retirement doing the rounds, the 2017 Queen’s champion needed a wildcard for the main singles draw.
His week had begun awkwardly too as he strenuously denied any wrongdoing in a doubles match in 2017 flagged up as potentially connected to match-fixing.
But once the early-week rain stopped the grasscourt thoroughbred rolled back the years.
Despite heavy legs after being on court from mid-afternoon until dusk on Saturday, he hung on to beat fellow veteran Gilles Simon of France 6-2 6-7(4) 7-6(2) in a high-quality final.
It was one of the oldest Queen’s finals but the two warriors served up a classic as they pushed each other to the limit.
Lopez wasted a match point in the 12th game of the contest but a sensational lunging backhand volley put him 5-2 ahead in the deciding tiebreak and he made no mistake the second time.
Simon netted a volley at 2-6 and Lopez celebrated his first title since winning here in 2017. He is the first wildcard to win the title since Pete Sampras 20 years ago.
“I thought the best moment of my career was in 2017 but it was not, it’s right now,” Lopez said before making a moving tribute to his watching wife-to-be Sandra Gago.
“She might have heard of this leftie Spanish player but I’ve not won many matches since we met.
“Now I can say to her I’m a decent player.”
Murray will fully concur.
RETURN TO COURT
He and Lopez had won back-to-back matches to reach the final on Saturday night after Lopez had taken down Canadian teenager Felix Augur-Aliassime in three sets.
Then, 35 minutes after Lopez’s near three-hour singles final, they returned to court with Lopez seeking the double and Murray eager to win silverware for the first time since Dubai in March 2017, just before his right hip began crumbling.
The question was not so much about Murray’s fitness as he has said he is “pain free”. It was more whether adrenaline could carry Lopez through one more match.
Former world number one Murray, who has won a record five Queen’s singles titles, need not have worried.
Lopez was not about to disappoint the large crowd.
Murray produced several spellbinding returns as they saved a set point in the opening set before snatching it on a tiebreak.
Salisbury and Ram battled back valiantly to take the second and send the final into a match tiebreaker.
A couple of sweet Lopez volleys put the duo 8-4 ahead and Lope crunched a forehand winner to bring up match points.
One was saved but Salisbury a return wide to provoke a Murray celebration many thought they would never witness again.
Fittingly, Lopez summed up the mood.
“I’m so happy to have Andy playing with me. We’re so happy that you’re back on a tennis court,” he said to loud applause.
Lopez could have become the oldest man to win a Tour-level singles title since 43-year-old Ken Rosewall in 1977, had not Roger Federer won in Halle a few hours earlier.
But two trophies and a place in the hearts of the British public was enough for one day.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)