I said yesterday that Mischa Zverev needed a major improvement during the grass swing, but it certainly didn’t arrive, with the German collapsing badly from 3-3 in his opening set against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to failing to win another game in the match.
I thought it was worth risking him in the opening set and he looked okay for the first half of it, despite being made to wait to serve by rain delays on at least two occasions, but once the break came it was curtains for Zverev.
That was the first time for eight years that Tsonga had bagelled an opponent on grass and only the third time ever at main level and the warning signs are flashing brighter than ever now for Zverev’s main level career.
The rancid weather that’s prevalent across western Europe at the moment looks like it might clear up to allow a decent amount of play at both the Mercedes Cup and the Libema Open on Tuesday, starting at 10:00 UK time.
There are some big servers due to be in action on Tuesday and given that Stuttgart has the second highest frequency of tie breaks of the whole season (53% of its matches have featured at least one in its four years on grass) I’m expecting some breakers on moist, early season grass.
The three match-ups that look likely to be rather serve dominated are those involving Nick Kyrgios, Milos Raonic and Feli Lopez, with those three all facing strong servers.
Feliciano Lopez vs Lucas Pouille
This second match of the day on the Mercedes court is a repeat of the 2017 final in which Lopez was a couple of points away from winning it in straight sets, faced only one break point in the match, yet lost.
That one went pretty much to form in terms of service holds, with both men being broken only once in three sets and holding serve 94% of the time.
Pouille’s on break point chance in that one meant that he created a measly 0.06 break chances per game and here in Stuttgart in his eight-match career the Frenchman has held serve 92.1% of the time and played 0.33 tie breaks per set.
He won the title that year by and large on winning tie breaks, winning five of the seven he played in 2017, as he only breaks serve 8.8% of the time in Stuttgart, which is bordering on Karlovic and Isner levels of weak returning.
Lopez is clearly a player in decline and we can see from his grass stats that he’s on the slide, dipping from 91.7% holds in his last 50 main level matches on grass to the current level of 85% in his last 10 matches on this surface.
In these conditions he should still prove very tough for a weak returner like Pouille to break and Lopez is still very impressive here in Stuttgart, with 93.1% holds in his 10 career matches in the main draw.
He’ll have a feel for the grass already, having played five sets in qualies to get here and he won 89% of the points on first serve in his last qualifying match against Alexander Bublik in which he went unbroken.
Given their records on grass a breaker seems highly likely here and over 10.5 games in set one at 2.30 looks better value than the same bet in the Raonic and Kyrgios matches.
Alexei Popyrin has the sort of game that could transfer nicely to grass, but you never know until the time comes and he’s yet to play a main level match on the green stuff.
Given that his opponent Milos Raonic has been out injured (again) since Miami it’s a fair assumption that he’ll be rusty and even before the injury the Canadian played breakers in nine of his first 10 matches of the season.
A breaker seems likely there, but we are guessing a bit on Popyrin’s level on grass, while we’re always guessing on what Nick Kyrgios will bring to the court or if even if he’ll finish the match.
He breaks serve only 12% of the time on grass at main level and holds 89.9% of the time, so you’d think that against a big server like Matteo Berrettini a breaker is likely, but the Italian is probably not best suited to grass and has only held serve less than 80% of the time on it so far in four main level matches.
Of the underdogs in Stuttgart on Tuesday I’m tempted by a couple of Germans, Dustin Brown and Peter Gojowczyk.
Brown has better grass court stats than John Millman, who seems to be rated favourite here on not a lot other than current ranking.
Millman is 8-9 win/loss on grass at main level and with a hold/break total of 95.8, while Brown holds serve almost 8% more often and breaks a couple of percent less often than the Aussie.
The notable stat in the unpredictable Brown’s grass is his awful record in tie breaks of 7-17 win/loss and that tells you much of what you need to know about the mental fortitude of Brown in pressure moments.
Gojowczyk is more than capable of beating the struggling Gilles Simon, who hasn’t looked fit for some time, but after Gojowczyk’s daft capitulation to Tsonga at the French Open, which cost me a perfectly good wager I’m not ready to trust him again yet.
Others will possible prospects on Tuesday include Steve Johnson, who, on a good serving day on fast early season grass could well have his moments against Gael Monfils, who has to really force himself to knuckle down and play well on the green stuff.
And Ernests Gulbis will be looking to test out Felix Auger-Aliassime on this surface, with FAA having not played on this surface since Wimbledon Juniors in 2016.
Ernie has rarely found grass to his liking though and I’d like a bigger price than what’s on offer about Gulbis here.
0.5 points win over 10.5 games in set one of Lopez/Pouille at 2.30