Top seed Roger Federer is one step away from his second final of the season as he takes on third seed Dominic Thiem in the Mercedes Cup semifinals. Thiem has doubled his career wins on grass this week with a pair of wins over Sam Groth and Mikhail Youzhny. The Austrian seeks his 5th final of the season.
(1) Roger Federer vs (3) Dominic Thiem
Federer has scraped through his first two matches in Stuttgart this week. The top seed outlasted Taylor Fritz in the second round 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. He followed that with a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (1) win over Florian Mayer on Friday. That win netted Federer his 1, 072nd win. It puts him second on the all-time list of wins in the Open Era behind Jimmy Connors. The top seed did sound content with the win on Friday, saying it was better than his opener against Fritz, “My serve was more consistent and accurate and I played two good tie-breakers. I’m very pleased, this was a step up from the last match.”
Fed has been far from perfect though with 15 break chances allowed. He’s done well to save all but two of those however. His first serve has provided plenty of pop this week, winning 86 percent of the points. His second has been the issue with only 50 percent of the points being won by the Swiss. That’s well below his season rate of percent.
Thiem has carried over the confidence from his semifinal run at Roland Garros onto grass this week, where the Austrian still has very little experience. In just his 10th career match on grass, the third seed rallied from a set down to oust Youznhy 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. His first serve was again in-tune with the slick grass courts, winning him 86 percent of the points. Thiem struggled with nine double faults to off-set eleven aces. He was broken twice and won just one more point in the match than the Russian, 87-86. In his opener, he beat Sam Groth in a pair of tiebreak sets. He also pounded eleven aces in that match and never faced a break point.
This will be third career meeting between these two, with all of those taking place this year. Federer won in Brisbane on a hard court 6-1, 6-4. Thiem returned the favor on clay last month, where he beat the Swiss 7-6 (2), 6-4 in Rome. Federer was not sharp in that match where he was reportedly battling a back injury. It was that loss that helped prompt his decision to skip the French Open to get healthy for the grass court season. And now thanks to the power of karma, he gets Thiem again, but this time on Federer’s best surface and much closer to 100 percent fit.
Don’t think that last month’s loss isn’t on Federer’s mind. He may not need the motivation, but he also doesn’t want Thiem getting it into his head that he has the Swiss’ number after just three career matches head-to-head. Grass still suits the top seed better as he can use his net rush tactics to test Thiem. The Austrian is still much more comfortable at the baseline and will see a different ground game on Saturday than he has against Youzhny or Groth.
Thiem has that wicked first serve that should allow him to stay in sets against Federer on this surface however. It’s been difficult to find breaks this week in Stuttgart against the bigger serves and these two both feature rock solid first serves when they are in rhythm. Tiebreaks are certainly possible here and Federer will feel better after playing a pair against Mayer. Prior to that, the Swiss had just three tiebreaks played this season with a 1-2 record. Thiem has played a lot this season with a 15-9 mark in tiebreaks. That has helped him surge past .500 for his career.
This feels bigger for Federer, even though a loss can be written off as the 34-year-old working his way back into playing shape after missing nearly a month. For Thiem, he’s already shown better on grass this week with the two wins than he had in the past and regardless of result can look upon this quick turnaround from clay as a success. So long as Federer can keep dominating with his first serve and use that to set up his serve and volley game at the net, the top seed should put himself into a position to advance.
Thiem’s chance is to serve big and hope to turn some of the ground game to the baseline where he may be able to wear down Federer. On grass, The Pig thinks that will be difficult for the budding super start to do. Federer should quell the uprising for at least a day and make his way to the final.
Federer wins in straight sets
Philipp Kohlschreiber looks to continue his run of good results on home soil on grass as he takes on Juan Martin Del Potro for the other spot in the Mercedes Cup final. Kohlschreiber is 19-5 on grass in Germany since 2011.
(7) Philipp Kohlschreiber vs Juan Martin Del Potro
Kohlschreiber has moved through three rounds in Stuttgart without dropping a set. The German beat nemesis Radek Stepanek 6-4, 7-5 in the quarterfinals. Stepanek had beaten Kohlschreiber seven of their previous eight meetings. The 7th seed was solid again on serve, winning 79 percent of his first serve points. He saved five of five break points against his serve. The win helped Kohlschreiber better his quarterfinal showing in Stuttgart a year ago.
Del Potro made his way to his second semifinal of 2016 with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-0 win over 4th seed Gilles Simon. The Argentine was teetering on being down a break in the second set, before he finally got the break through on Simon’s serve in game eight and would not lose another game in the match. Del Potro continued to show a very solid serve on grass, winning 81 percent of his first serve points and 70 percent of his second serve points. He saved two big break chances in the second set, the only he would face on serve. Those were the first break points against the Del Potro serve this week in three matches.
This will be the 7th meeting all-time between these two. It is the second this season. Kohlschreiber won the last meeting in clay in Munich in straight sets. Del Potro had a poor service day, winning just 53 percent of the points. He was broken four times on six chances. That broke a six match win streak for Del Potro in the series. The Argentine scored five of those six previous wins on hard courts. The lone clay court win came in Stuttgart back in 2008.
On grass, Del Potro figures to have a shot to return to his winning ways against Kohlschreiber. His serve has been on point this week and impossible to break so far. Kohlschreiber has been tough as well with his own serve. He has been broken just once this week on ten chances. Those chances have grown though as the tournament has progressed with five break chances in each of the last two rounds. It is difficult to see where Kohlschreiber is going to find more success against the Del Potro serve than any of the Argentine’s previous opponents. His hope will be that Delpo shows some fatigue after seeing more match play this week than he has since Delray Beach in February. Fatigue may be the only thing that helps him crack the Del Potro serve.
Off the ground, Del Potro has the weapons to control the match. The huge forehand has been firing this week and his backhand has been adequate as well. Kohlschreiber has been solid off the ground in his own right, but it will be a much different match for him from what he saw against Stepanek. Kohlschreiber won’t shy away from a baseline battle though, that’s his strength too. Still, Del Potro looked strong more often than not against Simon in rallies, so Kohlschreiber has his work cut out for him on Saturday.
With both players rarely breaking down on serve this week, tiebreaks could be in order to decide one or more sets. Del Potro is 3-3 this season and Kohlschreiber is 4-3. The Argentine surely also has a little revenge on his mind as he noted after the match, mentioning his poor play in the loss to Kohlschreiber in Munich earlier this year. While Kohlschreiber has been a tough nut to crack in Germany on grass, Del Potro’s serve looks even tougher. This should be a tense and tight affair, but I am going to side with Del Potro.
Del Potro wins in three sets