Conditions and trends
At the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart they play on a lively grass court of the same type of seed as used at Wimbledon, with the same Slazenger balls as the grass major.
The CPI was clocked at 35.1, which isn’t that fast, but players have found it tough to return on and it ranks second of all the tournaments in terms of frequency of tie breaks, with 53% of the matches in its four years on grass on the tour featuring at least one breaker.
Lucas Pouille in 2017 is the only double-figures (18-1) outright winner so far, with Federer and Nadal both having won here in the last four years.
The Libema Open in Rosmalen is usually regarded as one of the slower grass court events around and that is borne out by its much lower frequency of tie breaks compared to Stuttgart (only 43% in Rosmalen).
It’s usually a good tournament to keep an eye on the qualifiers in, with a qualifier having made at least the semi finals in five of the last seven years (Nicolas Mahut won it twice as a qualifier).
Number one seeds have had a rough time here of late, with no top seed since David Ferrer in 2012 making the final.
As usual the draw in Rosmalen looks far more appealing than the one in Stuttgart that’s packed with big names and I’m perfectly happy to take on favourite and top seed Stefanos Tsitsipas here.
The Greek hasn’t displayed any grass court form that should make him a short priced jolly as yet, with a 6-5 record on the surface and I’m also not convinced that he’ll be truly up for it after a heart-breaking loss to Stan Wawrinka at the French.
After he was crushed by Rafa Nadal in the Australian Open semis his next couple of tournaments were poor and he’ll do well to get right back on it and land the title in his next event after the Wawrinka defeat.
There are plenty of alternatives to Tsitsipas in the top half at decent prices and they include Jeremy Chardy, Andreas Seppi, Richard Gasquet and Jordan Thompson.
Chardy started the grass swing on fire last year, with a title in Surbiton, followed by a final here in Rosmalen and a semi final at Queen’s Club, so he’s an obvious one for the shortlist.
His opener is tricky though against Seppi, who will doubtless shake off his recent funk now that he’s back on a quicker surface again, but the Italian is notoriously difficult to win with, with only three titles in his 15 years or so on tour.
Thompson has shown aptitude on grass before, losing a tight Surbiton final to Yuichi Sugita in 2017 and going on to beat Andy Murray in straight sets at Queen’s Club a few weeks later.
There are few gimmes in this section of the draw, with Frances Tiafoe having shown a good level on the grass last year, making the last eight at Queen’s and he should have made the last-16 at Wimbledon, but faded in the heat from a winning position against Karen Khachanov.
Alex De Minaur has obvious claims on his grass form last summer in Surbiton and Nottingham, but he’s just back from injury and his price is a tad short for me in this tough section of the draw.
Gasquet and Tsitsipas look set to repeat their quarter final clash here last season, which Gasquet won in a couple of tie breaks, and the reigning champion has a fair chance again, but is he fit enough this year?
I’m not convinced that he is after a long time out with injury and only a few matches under his belt in his latest comeback.
Instead, the bottom half of the draw looks to hold a few decent priced options, with Matt Ebden, Pierre-Hugues Herbert, Ugo Humbert and Adrian Mannarino all capable of good things on this surface.
Ebden made the semis here last year and also in Surbiton and lost a tight one to Federer in the Halle quarter finals, while he also made the Newport final in 2017, so he knows his way around a grass court.
The problem for Ebden is that he has Herbert in round one and the latter has been playing well lately, although he’s yet to really transfer his game successfully to the grass.
The winner of Ebden/Herbert faces David Goffin, whose form on grass is not up to much and who was beaten in straight sets by Ebden at Wimbledon last summer, while Herbert should have beaten Goffin on outdoor hard in Washington DC last year.
Mannarino is also in this quarter of the draw and it’s easy to forget that he was top seed here in Rosmalen a year ago and the Frenchman is one that’s very capable of a good run here if he’s in the mood.
He’s certainly capable of beating Fernando Verdasco on grass (he did it in Antalya in 2017), with the Spaniard having failed to make it past the quarters of any grass event since Nottingham 2008.
Humbert is unproven on grass, with only one career match on it so far (against Troicki in Surbiton), so he probably won’t be winning this week, but his game looks to me like it could transfer to grass quite well and his draw in the final quarter looks decent.
Robin Haase is very hit and miss here at his home tournament, with a 7-11 win/loss mark (lost four of his last five), while Cristian Garin is 0-2 on grass in his career and will surely find it too fast for him.
High seed Borna Coric won Halle as a 50-1 chance last season, beating Federer in the final, which was a bit of a surprise given that he was 2-7 win/loss on the green stuff prior to that tournament.
He went on to lose in straight sets to Daniil Medvedev at Wimbledon after that and I’m happy to take him on here, with Coric tending to save his better efforts for bigger tournaments these days.
He may well get Taylor Fritz first up and Fritz is another whose record on grass isn’t great at all – just 3-10 win/loss – but he has faced some decent grass courters in those matches and his record on clay was weak as well until this clay swing.
Fritz is one that could go well here, but his good recent form means he’s a tad short for me and I prefer a bigger price in this first week of the grass swing.
The late wild card given to Alexander Zverev means he’s top seed here and he’s twice a finalist on the grass of Halle, but I can’t have him as favourite for this tournament given his poor recent form.
Zverev just about made the quarters in Paris, but he’s still playing too deep in the court and not really hitting his forehand and the confidence isn’t back yet for me, so I’m happy to overlook Zverev this time.
There are plenty of fast court exponents in the top half that could cause Zverev problems, including John Millman, Peter Gojowczyk, Marton Fucsovics, Milos Raonic, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Zverev’s brother Mischa.
Raonic has been struggling on and off with injury for a couple of seasons now and currently he hasn’t played since March due to a right knee injury, so it’s a tall order for him to be winning this week.
Tsonga may be a threat, but looks like his best days are behind him now, as does Zverev the elder, who has one match win (and that was lucky) since Cincinnati last summer.
Mischa looks all but done at the moment and perhaps he’s pinning all his hopes on having another good grass season to maintain his place in the top-100, but a title here doesn’t seem likely, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we saw a huge improvement from him this week.
We don’t know much about Felix Auger-Aliassime on grass, with the young Canadian star not having played on grass since losing to De Minaur at the 2016 Wimbledon Junior tournament.
Nikoloz Basilashvili is 6-9 win/loss on grass at main level and has been in weak form this season generally, so I’d prefer former Wimbledon Junior champ Marton Fucsovics.
The Hungarian has done little at main level on grass since, but he has the weapons to be a force on this surface if he finds his best form, and he’s been playing well lately with little reward,.
His early draw looks about as kind as he could have hoped for, with Jaume Munar and Basilashvili his route to the quarter finals and if he passes that test anything’s possible in the last eight onwards.
The bottom half of the draw looks a decent opportunity for Daniil Medvedev to take a first grass court title, with the main threats to the Russian – assuming he’s fit – likely to come from Philipp Kohlschreiber, Lucas Pouille, Gael Monfils or Steve Johnson, Karen Khachanov and possibly Nick Kyrgios if he’s in the mood.
Kohlschreiber has a fine record here (110.8 hold/break total and 8-4 win/loss), while Pouille is a former champion and Khachanov looked in Paris to be getting back some of his form of last year.
I’m not convinced at all that the low bouncing grass will prove to be the best surface for Khachanov, but he is 10-4 win/loss on it, and could come through that last quarter, although Kyrgios, Monfils and Johnson all have better grass court service hold/break totals than Khachanov.
Medvedev’s game is well suited to the grass and I’d expect him to come through, but don’t write off Johnson or Monfils in this half, with Johnson perhaps one for the shortlist at a big price.
As ever I’m after some decent prices in the opening week of the grass swing and in Rosmalen I’ll take my chances on Ebden and Mannarino in the bottom half at 66-1 and 25-1 respectively.
I could make a case for any number of runners in Stuttgart, but I like the 33-1 about Marton Fucsovics to spring a surprise in Germany.