LONDON – Stan Wawrinka kicked off his Wimbledon preparations with a 6-2, 6-3 win over British youngster Cameron Norrie in the Queen's Club first round on Monday.
Wawrinka has struggled to return to peak form since suffering a left knee injury last year that required two operations and wiped out the second half of the Swiss star's season.
Still hampered by the problem this term, Wawrinka was sidelined again for three months in between a second round exit at the Australian Open and a first round loss in the French Open.
The 33-year-old arrived in west London having lost six of his last seven ATP Tour matches and, given grass has never been Wawrinka's favourite surface, he might have feared more misery at the pre-Wimbledon event.
But the three-time Grand Slam champion had an obliging opponent in wild card entry Norrie.
Wawrinka hardly had to break sweat to see off Norrie and next faces former Queen's winner Sam Querrey of the United States, who beat British wild card and ATP Tour debutant Jay Clarke 6-3, 6-3.
“Mentally it's tough when you see how far you are and how long it will take. Still now, it's not easy,” Wawrinka said of his injury woes. “It takes time to get where you want to be. I need to be really patient with myself, to accept less in a way, because, when you win Grand Slams, I always expect so much from myself.”
In other first round action, top seed Marin Cilic made a flying start to his bid for another strong grass-court campaign with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Spanish veteran Fernando Verdasco.
Former US Open champion Cilic is bidding for a second Queen's title and a fourth appearance in the final after losing last year's title match against Feliciano Lopez.
The world number six, who finished as Australian Open runner-up in January, was back on grass in London for the first time since his tearful injury-plagued Wimbledon final defeat against Roger Federer last year.
Cilic made short work of Verdasco and his second round opponent is Luxembourg's Gilles Muller, who beat rising Canadian star Denis Shapovalov 7-6 (9/7), 7-6 (8/6).
Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, the biggest names in the Queen's draw, are both due in first round action on Tuesday.
Djokovic plays Australian qualifier John Millman and Murray will make his first appearance for 11 months after finally recovering from a hip injury that needed surgery in January.
The former world number one faces a tricky opener against talented but temperamental Australian Nick Kyrgios, who pushed Roger Federer to three sets before narrowly losing in the Stuttgart semi-finals at the weekend.
Murray, a two-time Wimbledon winner, has admitted he doesn't have great expectations at the start of his comeback after so long on the sidelines.
Finally free of a nagging elbow injury, world number 21 Kyrgios has grander plans - starting with securing his first win over his good friend at the sixth attempt.
“I feel good. My elbow is fine and I played three quality matches in Stuttgart. Pretty disappointed I didn't win against Roger but it was a good match,” Kyrgios said. “I'm feeling confident. I'm excited (to play Murray), obviously one of my better mates on tour.
“It's just good to see him back ultimately. I think it's been pretty shitty without him. To see him healthy is the main thing. I think he's awesome for the sport.”
Kyrgios has a well-earned reputation as one of the tour's more controversial figures after some petulant behaviour in the past.
The 23-year-old remains combustible, but for now he insists he's focused on ruining Murray's return.
“Early in my career, I probably didn't play my best against Andy. I wasn't as confident back then as I am now,” he said.
“Hopefully I've still got more to show him. Maybe we'll see tomorrow.”
Agence France-Presse (AFP)