Grass court season begins with the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany as one of two tour stops this week. This is the 2nd year that Stuttgart will be hosting this tournament on grass, after the tournament took place on clay prior to 2015. It marks the return of Roger Federer, who has been sidelined with a back problem that caused him to skip the French Open. Federer will be making his debut at this event as the top seed. Last year’s champion, Rafael Nadal, is not participating in the event. Rafa was a three-time winner in Stuttgart. Joining Federer in the top four seeds this week are Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Gilles Simon. Feliciano Lopez, Viktor Troicki, Philipp Kohlschreiber and Lucas Pouille round out the top eight. Troicki and Kohlschreiber are former finalists in Stuttgart. Pouille joins Federer as a first timer at the Mercedes Cup.
This 250-level event has seen the amount of seeded upsets early on drop off in recent years. There have been two seeded upsets in two of the last three years, but none in 2014. Going back a few years, this used to be a seed cemetery in the first two rounds. In 2011, six seeds dropped their openers and five seeds followed suit in 2012. As the tournament progresses, the top seed has had a good track record in Stuttgart over the last few years. The top seed has made the semifinals in three of the last four years and won the tournament twice in that span. The second seed has fared well too with four straight semifinals appearances and two finals appearances in the last four years.
With that to chew on, here is the Stuttgart Seed Report.
1. Roger Federer
The Swiss took Roland Garros off to prep for perhaps his best shot at contending for another Grand Slam win on grass. This has long been a premier surface for Federer with a career mark of 142-20 on grass. Fed has never played in Stuttgart, but has made eight finals in the last nine grass court tournaments he has played in dating back to 2012. If he’s fully healthy, he’ll contend here.
2. Marin Cilic
Cilic is a 2015 semifinalist in Stuttgart with a 3-2 record at this tournament. The Croatian will be looking to bounce back from an opening round loss at the French Open and grass is a good surface for him to do so. Cilic is 41-20 on grass with back-to-back quarterfinal runs at Wimbledon in 2014 and 2015. Keep an eye on him early though as Cilic is a better fit at Queen’s Club normally, so he could be on upset alert.
3. Dominic Thiem
The Austrian makes just his second appearance in Stuttgart. He lost his only match here last season. Thiem is a definite upset candidate simply because grass is by far his “greenest” surface, pun intended. Thiem is just 2-6 all-time on the surface and could definitely be a bit low on energy after scoring his first Grand Slam semifinal last week on clay.
4. Gilles Simon
The Frenchman is 4-5 in Stuttgart and has never advanced past the second round. This will be his first trip back since 2011. Simon has definitely improved on the surface since that time, making the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2015. He went 10-4 on the surface last year, including a 1-1 split in Davis Cup play. He’ll be one who could make a nice run this week if the draw works out for him.
5. Feliciano Lopez
The Spaniard has long been known for his surprising grass court prowess and sports an 8-6 record in Stuttgart. Lopez made the semis here in 2003 and 2007, but is just 1-2 over the last two years here. His first round draw against Mikhail Youzhny will be one of the more entertaining matches perhaps.
6. Viktor Troicki
The Serb jived well with this tournament in his 2015 debut, making the final as he beat Borna Coric, Alexander Zverev, Sam Groth and Marin Cilic. He would fall in the final to Nadal. He is 27-20 on grass and went 10-4 last summer on the surface. He’s got the game to compete on this surface and shouldn’t be ruled out from another run this week.
7. Philipp Kohlschreiber
The German is 10-9 all-time in Stuttgart. It’s not been as good a tournament for him as Halle traditionally has been. Since making the final in 2013, Kohlschreiber he is 3-2 at this tournament. He made the quarterfinals last year. He is a solid player on the surface at 46-27 all-time and should be in the mix this week at the business end of the tournament.
8. Lucas Pouille
Immediate upset alarms go off for Pouille this week. He’s coming off a disappointing showing at the French Open, where he lost in the second round badly to Andrej Martin. He has just two main draw matches on grass for his career, both were losses. He faces Aussie John Millman in the opening round. Millman is short on experience on grass too, but is a solid competitor who could take advantage.
The final round of qualifying will complete on Monday and it features some would-be dangerous main draw floaters. Radek Stepanek, Sergiy Stakhovsky, James Ward and Florian Mayer have good grass court experience that could test the right opponent, if they advance. Qualifiers have fared decently in Stuttgart over the last five years. In four of the last five years, at least one qualifier has escaped the opening round. More impressively, a qualifer has made the quarterfinals in three of the last five years and one semifinal back in 2011.
Quarter #1: Roger Federer (1)
Federer could have a difficult opening match with Taylor Fritz or a qualifier waiting for him. The Swiss maestro surely has been prepping hard for this event, but the lack of match play won’t make that an easy one to start. He also has 2015 finalist Viktor Troicki in this quarter. Troicki gets the winner of Michael Berrer and Malek Jaziri. The Serb could sneak through to the semifinals here if Federer is still rusty. Watch for the Fritz/Qualifier winner as a potential dark horse in this quarter.
Quarter #2: Dominic Thiem (3)
Thiem finds himself in a bad spot to open with either veteran Sam Groth or Illya Marchenko as his first round opponent. Groth already got in some grass play at the Manchester Challenger last week and has become tough on this surface, despite his poor play overall this season. Groth would be the tougher out for Thiem, but nothing is easy for the Austrian on this surface just yet.
In the bottom half of the quarter, Feliciano Lopez is the seed. The Spaniard is up against Mikhail Youzhny to open. He owns a 6-2 mark against the Russian and will be hoping to return to good results on grass after a subpar 2015. The winner could be headed to the quarterfinals with a qualifier or wildcard Jan Choinski waiting. This makes Lopez a potential runner out of this quarter.
Quarter #3: Gilles Simon (4)
Simon wasn’t given the best early draw with Marcos Baghdatis or Jan-Lennard Struff as his opening opponent in round two. Baghdatis has been tough on grass over the years and if he is there, he could pull off the upset. They have split six career meetings with Baghdatis winning the lone grass court meeting back in 2007.
The top half is loaded with talent with Juan Martin Del Potro and Grigor Dimitrov pitted in the best first round match of the tournament, on paper. In reality, we’re looking at Del Potro still trying to find his rhythm and Dimitrov looking like a lost soul. Perhaps grass can help one of them get rolling with both having made the Wimbledon semifinals once in their careers. The winner then gets a shot at Lucas Pouille or John Millman, making a win for Del Potro or Dimitrov pivotal as it could propel one of them deep in this quarter.
Quarter #4: Marin Cilic (2)
Cilic opens against either Denis Istomin or a qualifier. Cilic is 7-1 against Istomin, so he should potentially get a nice draw to start. The other half looks tasty as well with 7th seed Philipp Kohlschreiber opening against Pierre Hugues-Herbert. Herbert has shown more competitive on grass in the last year, but this is still a good match-up for Kohlschreiber at home. The winner gets either Denis Kudla or Dusan Lajovic. Lajovic beat Kudla in straight sets at the French Open, but grass is better for Kudla. The American made the semis in the Manchester Challenger last week and of course was hugely successful on grass last year. A Kohlschreiber-Kudla second rounder could provide Kudla a chance to atone for getting crushed by the German in straight sets at Indian Wells this year.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO ….
Normally, Federer on grass in a 250 is a no brainer of a result. This year, his injury status has been bigger than his results. With a tough quarter, there is a shot Federer may not even make the semifinals here. If he does, he will earn it. Frankly, all four of the top seeds have some major speed bumps along the way to getting out of their quarters. The Pig says expect the unexpected with the surface switch here.
Think Troicki or Lopez up top if Federer isn’t up to the task. The bottom of the draw may well end up going to an unseeded player like Baghdatis, Del Potro, Dimitrov or even Kudla. An unseeded player has made the semifinals four of the last five years.