The quick turn from clay to grass begins in earnest this week with Stuttgart as one of the two ATP World Tour stops. It also marks the return of Roger Federer, who has not played since winning the Miami Open in March. It was a calculated move by the Swiss to skip the entire clay court season to focus on spots where he had better chances to add to his record 18 Grand Slam titles. Wimbledon has always been eyed as the best shot for Federer to add to his trophy case because of how well the Swiss has performed on grass. He’s 152-23 on the surface for his career with 15 of his 91 career titles on grass.
Stuttgart is a relatively new stop on tour for grass court tennis. Up until 2015, Stuttgart was a clay court tournament. In the two years on grass, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem have won here. Last year, Thiem scored one of his best non-clay wins by beating Federer in three sets in the semifinals at the Mercedes Open. Thiem will not be participating this year nor will Rafael Nadal. This year, it’s Federer leading the field as the top seed. Grigor Dimitrov is slated in as #2 with Tomas Berdych and Lucas Pouille rounding out the top four seeds. Eighth seed Viktor Troicki was a finalist in 2015 at this event, which is the best showing among the seeds since Stuttgart went green.
1. Roger Federer
Federer debuted in Stuttgart last season and made the semifinals before losing out to Thiem. I would not expect much in the way of rust for Federer here as he has been solely prepping for grass for weeks now. That should give him a leg up on most who are transitioning over from clay.
2. Grigor Dimitrov
Dimitrov’s lone visit to the grass courts in Stuttgart ended with a one and done last year. The 26-year-old gained one of his better results in months by making round three at Roland Garros. That is the sad state of affairs that his season has become after making the Australian Open semifinals. On grass, he’ll hope for rebirth. He is 28-19 on the green stuff in his career.
3. Tomas Berdych
Speaking of disappointments, enter Berdych. The Czech was knocked out in Paris in round two by Karen Khachanov. That’s not a terrible result given the young Russian’s nice showing at the French Open. Berdych at 31 has had a reasonably good season at 23-11. He’s been good on grass at 58-25 overall. This will be his first trip to Stuttgart since they flipped to grass.
4. Lucas Pouille
The Frenchman has been up and down this season; mediocre in Paris with a five set loss to Albert Ramos-Vinolas, where he really fell apart after going up 2-1. It’s not often that young players come out of the gates and have big success on grass, but Pouille’s power game translated well at Wimbledon last summer. He made his first Slam quarterfinal on this surface in 2016, but is still just 4-5 all-time on grass. He lost to John Millman here last year in his opener, which at the time made him 0-4 on grass. This year figures to tell us whether Pouille knows grass or he was a one hit wonder on it at Wimbledon.
5. Steve Johnson
Johnson will be making his debut at Stuttgart this season. It’s been an emotional few weeks for the American since the passing of his father. He showed very well at the French Open by making round three. He’s 18-13 on grass in his career with really good results last summer, winning the title in Nottingham and then making the 4th round at Wimbledon. He may have to battle his emotions again, but his big hitting, aggressive game suits this surface. He could be a dark horse this week, but he also may have to continue battling through a wave of emotions.
6. Mischa Zverev
Zverev made the quarterfinals here in the first year that Stuttgart went green in 2015. He beat Thiem and Andreas Seppi, before losing in a third set tiebreak to Marin Cilic. His serve and volley tactics obviously can be successful on this surface, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show that in recent years. Due to his run of the past months, he will get to play the main draw at Wimbledon for the first time since 2011. That should be an exciting proposition for him and playing on home soil could ignite him to good things this week.
7. Gilles Simon
Simon went 1-1 last year in Stuttgart in his first trip back since they went to grass. He lost in the quarters in three sets to Juan Martin Del Potro, bageled in the final set. Simon has a respectable 38-28 mark on grass in his career and 2015 was excellent for him on grass to remind you of his prospects. That year, he made the semis at Queen’s Club and then the quarters at Nottingham and Wimbledon. Of course last year, he was just 2-3 on the surface and 2017 has been mediocre at-best as he comes in off a round one exit at the French Open.
8. Viktor Troicki
Troickiy followed up his 2016 finals appearance here by flaming out in his opener last year against Florian Meyer in straight sets. The Serb is 28-23 on grass. Like Simon, he stunk on the surface last year at 1-3 but went 10-4 on grass in 2015. In addition to the Stuttgart final, he also made the semis at Queen’s Club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. As usual, Troicki will be a big time hit or miss proposition this week.
Early Bird Specials
In the brief history of Stuttgart on grass, there have been multiple upsets of seeds in their first matches both years. In 2015, two seeds lost their openers with Feliciano Lopez (3) as the highest seed to go down. Last year, four seeds were one and done, including second seed Marin Cilic. It’s not a coincidence that seeds flame out early with this being the first tournament on grass and many players lack the proper preparation. With that in mind, let’s look at which seeds could be sent packing early.
Dimitrov will see either Jerzy Janowicz or Andrey Kuznetsov to start. Janowicz hasn’t had much to crow about at this level in a few years, but we know he’s dangerous on grass (12-8) if he’s healthy. He’s reasonably healthy for this swing for the first time since 2015. He went 1-1 in Stuttgart that year with a loss to Philipp Kohlschreiber. Kuznetsov is 7-11 on grass with a third round showing at Wimbledon last year. Dimitrov has never played the Russian, but he is 2-1 versus Janowicz. That includes a three set win indoors in Sofia earlier this season. On grass, Janowicz could get the extra oomph to make Dimitrov play his best to win.
Potentially a bad match-up for Berdych in his opener with Bernard Tomic possibly up against him. Tomic opens with Stephane Robert. This is a surface that Tomic has shown some excellence on, but also shown his usual Barnyard antics as well in losses. Tomic made the quarters here in 2015. Last year, he made the semis at Queen’s club and the 4th round at Wimbledon. Berdych is 4-0 against Tomic with two tight four set wins on grass at Wimbledon in 2013 and 2014 over the Aussie. Not much in Tomic’s 2017 might suggest an upset, but it will still be a fairly difficult draw for the Czech to start.
I put Pouille on this list simply because we don’t really know yet whether the Frenchman is going to be the guy pre-Wimbledon 2016 who could not win on grass or the guy who showed up at Wimbledon and surprised his way to the quarterfinals. Given an uneven run in 2017 as well, I think he’ll need to be alert in his opener against either qualifier Lukas Lacko or Jan-Lennard Struff. Lacko can be tough on this surface and has the match play advantage. Lacko has a win over Pouille in Challenger play way back in 2013 and he did play him tough in a two tiebreak loss in Rotterdam last year. Struff has the power to match Pouille on serve, but is just 3-11 on grass.
A big dat duh on this one with Simon pitted against Feliciano Lopez. Lopez is a three-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist. The Spaniard’s serve and volley tactics have made him a danger on grass for years at 63-36 overall. He is 0-2 at this event though and the green stuff hasn’t been as kind the past few years. He’s 3-2 against Simon though and two wins came on grass in 2013. He beat the Frenchman earlier this season on clay in a third set tiebreak in Madrid. Given Simon’s murky form, this is a definite upset possibility and surely will be a popular one among Pig-nosticators.
The Serb is about as reliable for consistency as his opponent, Benoit Paire. That makes their R1 clash an absolute 50-50 for me, Paire could lose 6-1, 6-0 or spring the upset. We just don’t ever know with him, so that’s why I think Troicki has to be on upset alert. The two have not met in their careers.
Seeds have been a mainstay at the business end of things in Stuttgart in its first two years. Only Del Potro crashed the semifinals as a wild card last year to break the seeds’ stronghold on the semis. There have however been five quarterfinalists of the 16 in Stuttgart’s history that have been unseeded. Even more interesting, three of them have been qualifiers. Mischa Zverev did it in 2015 and both Radek Stepanek and Florian Mayer did it last year.
He could join them as surprises in the quarters? Let’s look.
(q) Lukas Lacko
I ID’ed Lacko earlier as one to watch against Pouille potentially in round one. He’s 2-1 against his opponent Jan-Lennard Struff, even though they have not met since 2015. Still with Struff’s struggles on grass, Lacko could have a chance. A win over Pouille and voila, unseeded quarterfinalist.
Marcos Baghdatis/Philipp Kohlschreiber
This could be the best first round match in Stuttgart between these two veterans who both play well on grass. Baggy owns a 5-2 head-to-head advantage with two wins on grass, but those were a decade ago in Halle and s’-Hertogenbosch. Neither player arrives in great form with Baghdatis winless in six straight. He did get some grass play in at the Surbiton Challenger though, losing to Dudi Sela. If he scores the upset over Kohlschreiber, he may see Steve Johnson whom he lost to in their lone career meeting in 2014 in Auckland.
Kohlschreiber has lost four of five since making the Casablanca final on clay. Kohlschreiber has always played well on grass, especially in Germany. Stuttgart may not be quite a good to him as Halle, but he made the final last year and the quarters in 2015. A win over Baghdatis would likely set him up against Johnson. The two have never met. A win though and it’s quarterfinal city for the third straight year for Kohlschreiber here and he will be someone who people expect to have that chance.
As laid out above, Paire is the ATP’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’ll get – I mean outside of a brain meltdown as some point. But even with those meltdowns, his game is good enough to win on this surface. Troicki is a tough opener, but that’s winnable. All of a sudden, a win gives Paire a quick shot at the quarters with a match against either qualifier Peter Gojowczyk or Nikoloz Basilashvili. In their own right, Gojo or Basilashvili might have just as good a shot at the quarters if Paire is their opponent.
The Berdych Quarter
This quarter has several “specialists” who could do damage. Tomic. Lopez. Mayer. ll three have had past success on grass and despite mediocre or poor play coming in, they could easily cause some upsets. Berdych could well get through, but this is a very competitive quarter that I think will spring some upsets.
Quarter #1 Seeds
Roger Federer (1)
Mischa Zverev (8)
Federer could have an interesting opener with either Tommy Haas or Pierre-Hugues Herbert. The crowd surely would love to see the German veteran Haas against Federer. Fed likely would probably like seeing Haas as the Swiss is 13-3 against him. Their grass court encounters have usually been fun and competitive although that might be asking a lot of Haas at this stage. Zverev opens with Malek Jaziri in a winnable match and then gets one of two qualifiers Yannick Hanfmann or Martin Fucsovics. I’d be surprised if this didn’t wind up an all-seeded quarterfinal between Federer and Zverev. Fed is 3-0 versus Mischa, including this year’s straight sets win at the Australian Open and a double bagel on grass in Halle in 2013. Even with the extended layoff, It would be a massive shock to see Federer not in the semis with this draw.
Quarter #2 Seeds
Tomas Berdych (3)
Gilles Simon (7)
If a seed is going to fail to get to the semifinals, this quarter looks like it could produce that result. Berdych has the potential tough opener against Bernard Tomic if he makes it past Robert. Simon’s first-up is Feliciano Lopez, an equally tough task on this surface. The winner of that clash then sees either Florian Mayer or Jeremy Chardy. Mayer in particular has been good on grass for years and will have the crowd on his side. For me, this bottom half of the quarter seems more likely to see the seed (Simon) eliminated before the quarterfinals. Berdych may not be spectacular, but he’s steady and that’s not something you can say about Tomic. I still won’t be surprised though if the Aussie puts it together to score the upset. For me, this quarter comes down to Berdych, Mayer or Lopez.
Quarter #3 Seeds
Lucas Pouille (4)
Steve Johnson (5)
This quarter may also be a favorite for a potential unseeded semifinalist – mostly due to Kohlschreiber’s inclusion. The Baghdatis-Kohlschreiber survivor in round one will definitely have a shot to knock off Johnson. Pouille SHOULD be the guy to beat here, but he has to prove it. The opener against Lacko or Struff will be a test. If he passes, he could well see Kohlschreiber who beat him earlier this season on an indoor hard surface. If it’s Johnson, that would be a real power forehand vs power forehand match. Kohlschreiber will be the sheik upset pick in this quarter, but don’t be shocked if Pouille proves his mettle and make it out.
Quarter #4 Seeds
Grigor Dimitrov (2)
Viktor Troicki (8)
Dimitrov is the clear favorite in this draw, but nothing has been too clear for Dimitrov the last few months. This is a quarter where you’d like to see the two seeds get through. Dimitrov and Troicki have had some great battles in their five career matches. Dimitrov edged ahead in the head-to-head with a 6-3, 6-3 win in Sofia earlier this year. They have not met on grass, but three of their five matches have gone the distance. The unseeded players here like Paire, Janowicz and Kuznetsov are still threats, but most have more questions than answers coming into the week. It’s really hard to trust most of the players in this quarter, but I’ll give a slight nod to Troicki who has had some past success here. He should be back as he was in 2015, playing with no pressure with more of that on Dimitrov.
AND THAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE BECAUSE THE PIG SAID SO …
No one in their right mind will pick against Federer, especially on grass. About the only thing going against Federer is that the top seed has not won on grass here since the switch in 2015. He’s obviously the guy to change that trend. If he’s even 75 percent of the play we saw January-March, that’s likely better than anyone here. The one guy who intrigues me to play Federer in a final is Pouille, much like seeing Thiem do it last year. I am not predicting by any means that a similar upset would be in the cards, but I think Pouille’s style can perhaps contend with Federer if the Frenchman gets in the groove. Of course, he’s just as likely to lose his opener and leave Federer without any top tier competition in the end.