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Preview: Andy Murray vs. Alexei Popyrin - prediction, form, head-to-head

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Queen's Club first-round match between Andy Murray and Alexei Popyrin, including predictions, form and their head-to-head record.

For potentially the final time in his distinguished career, Andy Murray takes to the grass courts at the Queen's Club Tennis Championships on Tuesday, battling Australia's Alexei Popyrin in his first-round contest.

With five singles titles and one doubles crown, Murray is the most successful player in the history of the tournament, while his unfancied foe has had to come through qualifying to earn a meeting with the three-time major winner.

Match preview

Andy Murray waves to the crowd after losing his first round match against Switzerland's Stan Wawrinka on May 26, 2024© Reuters

Conqueror of Queen's in 2009, 2011, 2013, 2015 and 2016 - two of which preceded his memorable Wimbledon successes, Murray has spent the last few days building up to the championships discussing his retirement prospects, as painful as that may have been for his ardent fans to hear.

While the former British and world number one admitted that bowing out at his beloved SW19 would be "fitting", he has also hinted that an Olympics swansong might be in store after he was nominated to compete for Great Britain in the singles event, while he could also team up with Dan Evans for a doubles farewell.

Before ramping up his preparations for the Parisian clay, the 37-year-old gears up for just his second grass-court match of the 2024 season so far, having briefly competed for glory at the Stuttgart Open only to fall to defeat to the USA's Marcos Giron in straight sets.

Murray's defeat was avenged by his compatriot Jack Draper en route to his maiden ATP Tour crown, but with the three-time major winner bowing out 3-6 4-6, he returns to Queen's on a dismal four-match losing streak across ATP Tour and Challenger matches.

Even Murray's most recent success came via a retirement against Kyrian Jacquet at the Bordeaux challenger event, meaning that the Briton has to go all the way back to March's Miami Open - where he suffered his severe ankle injury - for his most recent complete triumph.

Alexei Popyrin in action at the Australian Open on January 15, 2024© Reuters

Standing in Murray's way of an emotional Queen's victory is the top seed from qualifying, who did not drop a single set in either of his preliminary contests with Otto Virtanen (6-4 6-4) or the USA's Mackenzie McDonald (6-3 6-4) en route to a main-draw appearance.

Ranked 48th on the planet, Popyrin - who achieved a career-best standing of 38 back in February - has endured the true definition of a mixed bag of results when it comes to non-qualifying matches in 2024 thus far, prevailing in 10 and losing 10 such battles on the ATP Tour.

Beaten by Novak Djokovic in round two of the Australian Open and by compatriot Thanasi Kokkinakis in his French Open opener, Popyrin's deepest tournament run of the season so far came in Doha - where he reached the semi-finals - while he also earned a noteworthy straight-sets win over Andrey Rublev in Monte-Carlo.

Thirteen years Murray's junior at 24, the Australian has two top-level titles to his name from the 2021 Singapore Open and last year's Croatia Open, where he defeated Stanislas Wawrinka - Murray's 2024 Roland-Garros conqueror - in the showpiece match.

Popyrin overcame Rinky Hijikata in his 's-Hertogenbosch first-round battle last week before falling to Tommy Paul in three sets, but should he curtail Murray's last Queen's dance, a second-round battle with Jordan Thompson or Holger Rune will be his prize.

Head To Head

Tuesday's first-round battle will represent the maiden meeting between Murray and Popyrin at the top level, but with a 50% win rate in 2024, Popyrin's ratio is significantly superior to Murray's, who has won just five of his 16 battles for a total of 31.3%.

The British favourite is certainly not a timid physical figure at 6ft 3in, but Popyrin has the edge when it comes to height at 6ft 5in, while both pros also adopt a right-handed style with a two-handed backhand.

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We say: Popyrin to win in three sets

With Popyrin's size comes a powerful serve and venomous groundstrokes, but the Australian has not been able to make waves on grass in the same way that he has on hard and clay courts, where his only two tour titles to date have come on.

The 24-year-old was at the races in qualifying, though, and should have few problems taking advantage of Murray's waning physical condition. While the battling Briton never waves the white flag and has our backing to take the match to the distance, he is at risk of being overwhelmed by Popyrin and will likely bid farewell to Queen's at the first hurdle.

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