2014 ATP Halle & London Queens Preview, Predictions
Steen Kirby, Tennis East Coast
The grass season begins with the 250 events in Halle, Germany and London with some strong fields and a nice change of pace from the clay court season.
Gerry Weber Open
ATP World Tour 250
June 9-June 15, 2014
Prize Money: €711,010
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (1)
2: Roger Federer (4)
3: Milos Raonic (9)
4: Kei Nishikori (10)
I fully expect Nadal to pull out of Halle after showing distress in the French Open final, but for now he is the top seed, and even without him, Halle has a great entry list with 8 top 25 players as seeds.
First round matchups to watch:
(7)Tommy Haas vs. Steve Johnson
Haas wasn’t healthy for the French Open and retired in round 1, while Johnson won a couple of matches in Nottingham at the grass court challenger there. The American has had a strong season and he beat Haas this year in Delray Beach in 3 sets. Tommy is a two-time champion here and a good grass court player, but I would say Johnson has a very good chance to upset him and I’m personally picking that result.
(6)Mikhail Youzhny vs Ivo Karlovic
Youzhny made the final here last year and is 3-0 career against Karlovic (all on hard courts). That being said, he has been in some awful form all season. Karlovic has had a strong season and is playing well, even on clay, his traditionally weakest surface, as he reached the third round of the French. Ivo is a much stronger player on the quick grass and he has a great chance of upsetting Youzhny.
If Nadal plays the tournament, he will face the potentially troublesome big server Dustin Brown or qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov for his first match. If not, it will be a lucky loser against one of those two. It could be Nadal or Brown or another player against most likely Jerzy Janowicz or Philipp Kohlschreiber in the quarterfinals.
JJ has a strong career record on grass and finally won some matches in Paris at the French, snapping a four match-losing streak. Kohli also has a great career record on grass and he just beat Janowicz on clay in Rome. The German opens with Andreas Seppi, who is in cold form, while JJ opens with Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a qualifier. I personally lean towards Kohlschreiber reaching the quarters, and in fact, the semis on.
Nadal doesn’t seem capable of mounting a deep run here in his current condition.
RG quarterfinalist Milos Raonic, who has had a strong season, opens with Peter Gojowczyk, a wild card, or Michal Przysiezny, who is really struggling. Milos is just .500 career on grass but he’s due for improvement on the surface given his good serve. His first opponent doesn’t seem troublesome, so expect him in the quarters against one of Richard Gasquet/Robin Haase/Lukasz Kubot/Alejandro Falla.
Gasquet is still working his way back from a back injury but he is best on grass of the four players. Kubot, though he can be dangerous, is struggling right now having lost three straight matches and being just 6-14 on the season overall. Raonic has a great shot at the semifinals against Kohlschreiber/Janowic.
Roger Federer will face JL Struff or Joao Sousa in round 2. The defending and six-time Halle champion was knocked out in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros, and I for one think he will be pleased to be back on grass.
Federer vs Karlovic/Youzhny is a likely quarterfinal matchup, as Rendy Lu and Mate Pavic are the only other options, neither of whom are very imposing. Fed has a decided edge against all possible quarterfinal opponents and appears safe for the semis at minimum.
Kei Nishikori will face Gaels Monfils or Benjamin Becker. Nishikori was unfit for Roland Garros and bowed out meekly in round 1, but he has been on a tear this season. Monfils doesn’t have that much of a record on grass but he’s positive on the surface and comes off quarterfinals in Paris. They have never met before and Monfils-Nishikori could be an amazing round 2 match. The winner will face Johnson/Haas in the quarters. In my opinion, Ilya Marchenko, a qualifier, and Teymuraz Gabashvili are the other options.
Dark Horse: Steve Johnson
Kohlschreiber is unseeded and technically qualifies as a dark horse, but Johnson is the real dark horse. If he can upset Haas, he should at least make the quarters, and if Nishikori/Monfils show up unfit, he could find himself in the semifinals this week. That would be a great result for the American who continues to rise in the rankings.
Kohlschreiber d. Raonic
Federer d. Nishikori
Kohli and Raonic have a split h2h, but I’m favoring Peppo because of the surface. It could go either way. Federer is 1-2 career against Nishikori and lost to him this year in Miami, but Kei may not be 100% from what I can tell, and this is grass, which swings things in favor of the Swiss veteran.
Federer d. Kohlschreiber
Federer is 4-0 against Kohlschreiber on grass alone, including three previous Halle wins, the last coming in 2010. Fed also won twice last year against the German on hard courts, and he is a strong favorite to win his seventh title here.
Top 8 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Stan Wawrinka (3)
2: Tomas Berdych (6)
3: Andy Murray (8)
4: Grigor Dimitrov (12)
5: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (14)
6: Ernests Gulbis (17)
7: Kevin Anderson (20)
8: Alex Dolgopolov (21)
Like Halle, Queens has a very strong field with three top 10 players (four if you include Gulbis, who has risen up the rankings post-RG), and all the seeds are top 25 players.
First round matchups to watch:
Blaz Rola vs. (WC)James Ward
The Slovenian Rola is looking for his first career ATP world tour win here in London. He had a good run at the Australian Open at the start of the year, but hasn’t played any ATP main draw matches since. He faces the British Journeyman Ward, who just beat him in French Open qualifying and is a decent grass court player. Rola has a stronger future ahead, but for now this match won’t be easy.
Jurgen Melzer vs. (WC)Daniel Evans
Another matchup featuring a British wild card, Melzer has been so-so in this season. Off of clay, it will be interesting to see what the rest of 2014 holds for him. Evans is a very streaky player who can play well at times when he finds himself. He hasn’t been that strong recently though, and I think Melzer will prevail over the home boy.
Sergiy Stakhovsky vs. (Q)Daniel Brands
Stakhovsky is 3-0 career against Brands, who was out between Miami and the French Open this year because of mono, but has found some match form to qualify here. Stako is on a four-match losing streak, and though he famously upset Federer at Wimbledon, he is barely above .500 on the grass court surface overall. He could find some form on it, but Brands, with his style of play, will have a chance in this one to return to ATP success.
(10)Feliciano Lopez vs. Dusan Lajovic
Feli Lopez is struggling, but he’s 24-10 on grass since 2010 and should have the advantage against surprise round of 16 FO participant Dusan Lajovic, who has never won a tournament match on grass (0-4 since 2010). This is more of a form test for both players to see if Lajovic can at least give Lopez a hard time. This match could also be routine.
Stan Wawrinka will face Bradley Klahn or frequent wild card recipient, and now infrequent winner, Marcos Baghdatis, in round 2.
Baghdatis did just win the Nottingham Challenger on grass though. Stan has never been known as a grass court player along with coming off a round 1 loss at the French, but the trump card though is Wawrinka is 5-0 career against Baggy including 2 wins last year, so he should be able to reach the third round. Wawrinka/Baghdatis could face an American, one of Michael Russell/Denis Kudla/Sam Querrey in the third round, or Jeremy Chardy. Querrey has had an awful season but is looking to find himself on grass, while Kudla and Russell can be competitive. It’s hard to pick a third rounder from that section.
Wawrinka vs. Tsonga/Cilic is my quarterfinal pick. The Frenchman is a former finalist here and managed to make the fourth round at Roland Garros. He’s a good grass court player but so is Marin Cilic, as he is the defending finalist here. Cilic must beat Marinko Matosevic and Matt Ebden/Lukas Lacko to reach the third round, while Tsonga must defeat David Goffin/Dominic Thiem.
Thiem is a dangerous lurker but I’m not sure about his skills on grass yet. Cilic has a grass court win against Tsonga in ’07 here, and has won the last two meetings, including a meeting in Rotterdam this year (both on hard court).
I’m going with Wawrinka vs. Cilic in the quarters and Cilic over Wawrinka in that matchup. Stan did win on clay this year, but the faster surface favors the Croat.
Grigor Dimitrov will face Rola/Ward in round 2 and the former semifinalist here has a good skill set for grass court tennis. He didn’t play well at all at the French Open and said he was dealing with personal issues after a round 1 loss. Assuming he has been able to put his struggles behind him, his first test should come against Nicolas Mahut in the third round. Mahut faces qualifier Marsel Ilhan, and then Edouard Roger-Vasselin/Evgeny Donskoy. ERV is a good grass court player, too, as he grew up playing some on the surface. That being said, Mahut is an amazing 30-12 on grass since 2010 and Mahut over Dimitrov to reach the quarters seems like a good value pick.
Dimitrov beat Mahut in straights here 2 years ago and leads the overall h2h 3-1, but if Grigor still isn’t quite right with himself, Nico in the quarters is a good selection.
Dimitrov/Mahut will be favored against one of Alex Dolgopolov/Dmitry Tursunov/Igor Sijsling in the quarters. Dolgo faces Denis Istomin or Farrukh Dustov in round 2 and he is just 9-10 on grass in the past four seasons. Tursunov can play well on grass but he’s inconsistent.
Sijsling is a nice change of pace choice as he reached the semis in Nottingham and has a quality record on grass in the past four seasons. Sijsling/Tursunov faces Benoit Paire/Jarkko Nieminen in round 2. Paire has been very poor this season and Nieminen is also struggling and has never been great on grass.
Tomas Berdych, an RG quarterfinalist, will face James Duckworth or Dudi Sela in round 2, then one of Julien Benneteau/Victor Estrella/Adrian Mannarino/Dan Cox in round 3. Benny comes off the French Open doubles title and has some skills on grass, while the seemingly struggling Adrian Mannarino is one to watch: on grass he can catch fire and put some good results. He struggled on clay this year but that is to be expected.
Benny beat Mannarino at Queens last year and leads the h2h 3-0, so he probably has a slight edge for the third round. Berdych and Benny have a 1-1 h2h on grass, but Tom leads the overall h2h 4-1 thus he should be safe for the quarters against Ernests Gulbis/Lleyton Hewitt, or perhaps Lopez.
Gulbis, an RG semifinalist and Nice champion is an on absolute tear recently and has entered the top 10. He will face Somdev Devvarman/Kenny De Schepper first and then Hewitt/Lopez most likely in round 3. Hewitt has lost four straight matches and has been poor this season but he has a great career record on grass and given his 4-0 record against Lopez, including a win at Wimbledon in 2005, I expect him in the third round (he has to beat Daniel Gimeno-Traver also in round 1) against Gulbis in a mouthwatering first meeting.
The Latvian is just 4-6 on Grass since 2010 and Hewitt may still be out of form, I’m going with my gut and putting Hewitt in the quarters of my draw, as Ernie may also be tired.
Defending champ and RG semifinalist Andy Murray has some points to defend first up against Aljaz Bedene, a newly minted Brit, or Paul-Henri Mathieu. After that, expect Murray, now working with coach Amelie Mauresmo, to face Radek Stepanek, as the Czech faces Mikhail Kukushkin (who on a trivia note also has a female coach, his wife) and then Bernard Tomic/Tim Smyczek to reach round 3. Stepanek is in decent form and Tomic, who can play well on grass, has been just awful this season as he seems to be throwing his career away.
Murray should be in the quarters after beating Stepanek.
Murray will have an interesting quarterfinal opponent. Kevin Anderson is the slated seed but he’s struggling and even with his big serve, has never dictated on grass like he probably should. Anderson will need to defeat Melzer/Evans to reach round 3, while Stakhovsky/Brands will face Paolo Lorenzi/Vasek Pospisil in round 2.
Lorenzi is an atrocious player off of clay, but Pospisil has literally not won a match since January and has to have absolutely zero confidence and belief right now with 8 straight losses (none of which came against top 15 opponents). I do believe Pospisil will break his losing streak because he’s facing Lorenzi on grass, but I like Brands/Stakhovsky to reach round 3, and one of Anderson/Brands/Stakhovsky to fall to Murray in the quarterfinals.
Dark Horse: Igor Sijsling
A variety of surprise players could make good runs here with an intriguing draw, but I’ll give the Dutchman the official designation for this tournament. If he can beat Tursunov, Paire/Nieminen and Dolgopolov/Istomin he will be in the quarters. This is an entirely reasonable proposition, and Mahut/Dimitrov will be a tough opponent, but he could make the semis.
Cilic d. Mahut
Murray d. Berdych
Cilic and Mahut have split head to heads on grass, with both meetings coming here in London Queens in 2009 and 2010. Cilic also won on a hard court in 2008 and I give him a small edge to advance to the final, given his strong season.
Berdych has won the last two meetings against Murray (in 2013) and he leads the overall h2h, but Murray seems to be in better form and this is grass, so I like him to make the final again.
Murray d. Cilic
It would be a rematch of last years final won by Murray in a competitive 3 sets, and I like a similar result again as Murray is 4-0 on grass overall against Cilic. Marin did win this year indoors in Rotterdam against him, but it seems like the British number 1 is finally returning to his pre-back surgery form or something near it.
Look for the three-time Queens champion to take his fourth title here next weekend.