Week in Preview: Federer, Murray in action; Azarenka returns to tour

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Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray. (AP)

Are you getting used to the three-week break between Roland Garros and Wimbledon? Or does it still feel a little luxurious? This is the third year since the All England Club moved its dates back a week. While that may not sound like much of a change, it qualified as a major upheaval in the tennis world, and it has allowed something approaching a grass-court season to bloom in June. These days, the old Wimbledon warm-ups, at Queen’s, Eastbourne and Halle, have their own warm-up events, in Stuttgart and Nottingham.

Still, tennis on turf is a sprint rather than a marathon. Seven days after the tours left Paris, we’ve reached the first summit of the grass swing on the men’s side. Queen’s and Halle, two 500-level events, will be headlined by a pair of Wimbledon champions who can use the matches. While the women’s draws aren’t as strong, they will contain the biggest news of the week, when a former No. 1 makes her 2017 debut.

*****

Aegon Championships (ATP)

London
$2,056,786; 500 ranking points
Grass
Draw is here

Not many 500-level events can survive a withdrawal by Rafael Nadal and still feel pretty good about their draws, but Queen’s is one of them this year. With the extra week, the bump up in ranking points and the $2 million in prize money, the tournament has begun to verge on the star-studded. Five-time champ Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych and Nick Kyrgios are the top eight seeds. The Aegon has a history of predicting the Wimbledon winner, but in 2016 it went one better: Murray and Raonic played the final at Queen’s, and again three weeks later on Centre Court.

Also here:

2010 champion Sam Querrey

First-round matches to watch:

Cilic vs. John Isner

Kyrgios vs. Donald Young

Dimitrov vs. Ryan Harrison

Raonic vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis

Wawrinka vs. Feliciano Lopez

*****

Gerry Weber Open (ATP)

Halle, Germany
$2,056,786; 500 ranking points
Grass
Draw is here

OK, Nadal has won three clay-court events 10 times, but how many players can say they’ve won a tournament on 33 percent of the occasions that it has been played? Roger Federer can, at the Gerry Weber Open. The event is just 24 years old, but that’s long enough for Federer to have won it eight times.

As old hat as Halle is for Federer, though, he might need it more in 2017 than ever before. This year he comes in having skipped the clay season entirely for the first time, and having lost his only grass-court match so far, to Tommy Haas last week in Stuttgart.

Federer should be OK in his opener against Yen-Hsun Lu; in their three matches, Lu hasn’t taken a set. But the challenges should start soon after: first from German serve-and-volleyer Mischa Zverev in the round of 16, and then from Stuttgart champion Lucas Pouille in the quarters. If Federer reaches the latter stages of the draw, he’s scheduled to face Kei Nishikori in the semis and Dominic Thiem in the final.

Also here, in Thiem’s half: Alexander Zverev, who beat Federer on his way to the Halle final in 2016

*****

Aegon Classic (WTA)

Birmingham, England
$819,940; Premier
Grass
Draw is here

While the marquee won’t shine quite as brightly in Birmingham as it will in London this week, the tournament has a serious field, deceptively so. Dominika Cibulkova is the top seed, but the bigger names lay beneath. 2015 Wimbledon finalist Garbiñe Muguruza, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, 2015 Wimbledon quarterfinalist CoCo Vandeweghe, French Open quarterfinalists Elina Svitolina and Kristina Mladenovic, England’s home-country hopeful and Nottingham finalist Johanna Konta: They’re all here.

First-round matches to watch:

Cibulkova vs. Lucie Safarova

Nottingham champion Donna Vekic vs. U.S. grass-court specialist Alison Riske

Alizé Cornet vs. Naomi Broady. What could go wrong there?

*****

Mallorca Open (WTA)

Mallorca, Spain
$226,750; International
Grass
Draw is here

Mallorca can’t offer the prize money or ranking points that Birmingham can, but it should have better weather, right? For an event this size, with not much history, it also has an intriguing draw. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Anastasija Sevastova, Caroline Garcia and Carla Suarez Navarro are the top four seeds, but it’s the wild cards who are the ones to watch: Former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka and 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki will return to the court for the first time in 2017.

First-round matches to watch:

Azarenka vs. Risa Ozaki

Garcia vs. Jelena Jankovic

Roberta Vinci vs. Ricoh Open champion Anett Kontaveit

Francesca Schiavone vs. Eugenie Bouchard

Suarez Navarro vs. CiCi Bellis

Lisicki vs. Kiki Bertens

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