Andreas Thiele for Tennis Atlantic
It’s the sixth day of this year’s ATP Stuttgart tournament and it was another hot day after quite a while. Not only the weather was perfect, today’s schedule was very interesting as we saw Nadal’s first appearance on the Center Court in a singlels match, along with Marin Cilic. The veteran Tommy Haas played his second match against Bernard Tomic who’s finding his form for grass and Mischa Zverev, upset Andreas Seppi. Zverev previously had a promising career that was derailed.
Thursday 2nd round matches
Everyone expected the name Zverev on today’s schedule here, but it’s more surprising Mischa was the one who played. Getting support from his whole family in the box, Mischa Zverev started perfectly. He kept in the long rallies both were playing and Seppi with his variation in shots just let the German move, but Zverev wanted these long rallies to as he was waiting for errors the Italian hit when he tried for winners. Zverev especially moved very well on the baseline and on grass overall, giving the Italian a small margin for error on his shots. The German played very defensively and didn’t approach to the net, knowing Seppi’s strength with passing shots.
As the match went on, the South Tyrolean got more passive and stayed behind the baseline. He tried to build up the points from behind to finish them aggressively at the net. Zverev realized this and the rallies became longer. Zverev sliced the ball almost always in the break service games he won twice. The German had a perfect start with the double break and held his service games to win the first set. He served very well and tried to avoid playing on the Italian’s forehand since he hit some awesome forehand cross winners on the line. However, the more defensive Seppi got the his shots became, Zverev could have decided the games earlier with some risky forehands, but he preferred to stay in the rally and waited for a Seppi error. The returns were another crucial advantage for Zverev. Seppi couldn’t serve very well today, so Zverev could read his serves and hit some great returns. Whereas Seppi couldn’t manage Zverev’s hard serves and its variation. Seppi could hold his serve twice in the first set, but didn’t have any chance to break him, as long as Zverev even played very good serve-and-volley at his last service game of the set. He served too consistently well and benefited from Seppi’s UE at the end too.
Second set started better for Seppi, he started to serve better and Zverev was more expectant, not as aggressive and effective as the first set. Zverev focused at the beginning more on his service games, approached more often to the net and Seppi had his chances for passing shot winners he sometimes was successful with, but Zverev was really powerful and it was difficult for Seppi to control the ball and massage it. However, Zverev let Seppi’s service games slide and he got much stronger. His groundgame shots were more on point, and his game began to have more depth, on the other side Zverev couldn’t hold his high level of returning he had in the first set. Both players showed no signs of breaking before a tiebreak. Suddenly Zverev tried to hit more top spin and Seppi more slice, in contrast to the first set, and Seppi’s slice shots were a real threat for the German.. Slice shots were a great choice as the court was very fast and had a low bounce, a good slice causes many problems for both with its low bounce.
After his period of weakness Zverev started to return more aggressively and the Italian had problems again with his serve, the German had two breakpoints. He started to play again with a real big depth causing Seppi more problems. A backhand down the line went out and after a long rally. Zverev stayed in the rally, varied with short slice and long forehands to the line. Another backhand UE into the net bestowed the break on the German and he served it out to win it in two sets, 6-2 6-4.
Another German who had hopes to get into quarterfinals was Tommy Haas in his second match after his comeback. He was the underdog against the in Stuttgart born Australian Bernard Tomic and had the problems with his serve. He couldn’t serve very well, rather very slow (1st service with an average speed of 155 km/h) and was easy to return for Tomic. Haas won the points due to good rallies and UE Tomic committed. The German veteran had many problems, when Tomic played the balls very long to the baseline and wasn’t able to return them properly. Besides the UE’s Haas hit some great winners, especially fine tuned volleys. The Australian stayed behind the baseline, waited more during rallies and suddenly hit a winner, while Haas had problems with his shoulder to keep up his offensive game. His returns were just so-so and Tomic held with ease his serves in the first set. The German was often too slow to react to Tomic’s whipped serves until the tiebreak. Haas moves very well on grass, Tomic waited for his shots, but Haas wasn’t that patient and committed hasty errors with many forehand UE.
Just like in second set’s tiebreaker Haas can’t level up his game again and had too many UE, hitting poorly with forehands. His game wasn’t up and he couldn’t get off his unforced errors. He went too early on winners, just like in the return game after his serve and missed quite a few. On return, Tomic raised his level taking an overwhelming 0-40 advantage. Haas served well then until 30-40, then Tomic and Haas played a long slice rally. Bernie’s backhand slice cross court was in, touching the line, but someone from the crowd shouted very loudly ‘out’ and Haas thought a linesman called it out. After a long discussion which lasted around three minutes, the hawkeye demonstrated the ball went in. Leading with double-break Bernie served the match out. The big hitter and big server won the match in two sets without facing any breakpoint and converted his fourth match point for a 7-6(6), 6-2 score line.
14 time grand slam champion Rafael Nadal next took to center court. Nadal began the match a little bit rusty and wasn’t moving well at all, allowing Baghdatis to get an early break. After he lost his serve Nadal couldn’t raise his level, the Cypriot even had three break points for the double break, that he didn’t convert. Nadal’s backhand saved him the service game and could break him after his held serve with ease due to Baghdatis’ unforced errors. Nadal started to move better on grass and to adapt his game to the surface, adjusting from clay, his favorite surface. After he survived another three break points and saved two because of good serving, he really took the control of the match and approached more often to the net. Nadal returned very well, but he still hasn’t the feeling for the right shot selection before the breaker and his forehand lacking is something which is a big flaw for his game right now. Nadal won the first mini-breaks with an incredible backhand down-the-line lob winner as Baghdatis served and volleyed very well, but the Spaniard could reach the ball yet. Though he lost the mini-breaks again, the lefty was lucky Baghdatis’ backhand down-the-line shot went out and served the breaker out.
In the second set Nadal broke him because of forced errors Baghdatis committed, but the Cypriot could re-break him again and was still in the match. His backhand failed three times, and the forehand UE into the net ended the service game. Nadal’s forehand still missed at important points the lines it had to or his forehand landed in the net. He moved well after a while, especially on the baseline, but was maybe a bit too fast reaching balls and thought too much about what to do. Nadal’s forehand was shaky overall, he didn’t have the full control, but his backhand and net approaches were really nice and he had the right feeling when to move forward to the net.
Baghdatis played well, but couldn’t move that well to cover the whole court for Nadal’s shots. His slice shots were really threatening for Nadal, as he doesn’t like to put his whole weight on his knees I reckon. Marcos returned very well and could read Nadal’s serve like in the breaker which had to decide the set again. Nadal played better again at the beginning than before, but Baghdatis returned too well twice at 5-4 and the Spaniard committed once again two UE with his forehand.
In the third set Marcos started to serve very well, yet lost his concentration already at the second service game. Nadal started to return very much better. A return on the line gave him the break and another good return and good shot on the line ended the match. Nadal played better in the third set, served quite well and his serve-and-volley worked, Marcos lost his concentration and ran out of gas. All in all a deserved win for Nadal after the third set, could have lost the match in two if Baghdatis would have been more clutch. Furthermore, Nadal looked a bit unsure on grass at the beginning, but won confidence game by game. Everybody was kind of surprised of the tiebreak Nadal lost, also because of two good but lucky (i.e. close) returns which were very long. His game got deeper and his good shot-selection in the 3rd set he didn’t have was the key for a good relaxed last set. Nadal wins 7-6 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2.