Grass Court Season Kicks off With Libema Open 250 in the Netherlands Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
If you are tired of the red clay, you’re in for a treat starting Monday. The ATP grass court season begins with the 250 stop in the Netherlands that is a joint event with the WTA. Here is your look at the field with predictions for the week ahead.
The second round match between Frenchmen Adrian Mannarino and Jeremy Chardy looks to be a great one. Chardy has to defeat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first to get there. I’ll go with Mannarino to find his form back on a faster surface and reach the quarters. At that stage Italy’s Andreas Seppi should be his opponent. Seppi will need to edge Mackenzie McDonald and Vasek Pospisil or Alex Bolt to get that far. Mannarino is my pick to reach the semis.
Matt Ebden is my dark horse pick this week. Pierre-Hugues Herbert comes off a doubles final in Paris and Gilles Muller is struggling (his round 1 and 2 opponents). Presuming he beats Muller he should defeat fellow journeyman Yuichi Sugita in the quarters. Sugita gets Nikoloz Basilashvili in round 1 (he struggles on grass), with Marius Copil or Aljaz Bedene to follow, both beatable opponents.
Tournament favorite Richard Gasquet draws Evgeny Donskoy or qualifier Franko Skugor in round 2. Gasquet should win and also defeat Stefanos Tsitsipas in the quarters. The Greek opens with local wild card Tallon Griekspoor, Malek Jaziri or Max Purcell will follow.
Ivo Karlovic vs. Robin Haase looks like a crucial round 1 match. I’ll back the struggling veteran Karlovic to win that and also defeat Marcos Baghdatis or Bernard Tomic to reach the quarters. Tomic has a great chance in theory, but he’s far from consistent these days. Look for Karlvoic to face Daniil Medvedev in the quarters. Medvedev is good on grass and should upset Fernando Verdasco in round 2 after defeating Yuki Bhambri in round 1. I’ll back Karlovic to reach the semis.
Nicolas Mahut added to his memorable results on grass with a routine 7-6 6-1 win over David Goffin in the ATP Den Bosch final. Mahut became the lowest ranked winner of an ATP title this season, as he captured his second Topshelf Open trophy as a qualifier.
Mahut dropped just two sets this week, one in qualifying against Kenny De Schepper, and the other in the semifinals against Dutchman Robin Haase, his toughest match of the tournament. Prior to wins over Goffin and Haase, Mahut rolled past Lleyton Hewitt, Roberto Bautista Agut, the defending champion, and Adrian Mannarino with relative ease, as his throwback serve and volley game proved to be an insurmountable hazard for his rivals.
The 33 year old had an excellent week, and he now has three career ATP titles on grass, making him a dangerous dark horse in the Wimbledon draw. The 24 year old Goffin as also strong, posting his best ever result on grass as the undersized ball striker defeated Jurgen Melzer, Illya Marchenko, and Gilles Muller, a serve and volleyer, this week, dropping just a set against Marchenko.
Ivo Karlovic and Lukasz Kubot, a pair of big serving serve and volleyers defeated Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Mahut for the doubles title, as Mahut was prevented from taking home two championship trophies in the same week. Mahut tends to only rise up on grass but he’s a joy to watch when clicking.
Former Champ Mahut Among Qualifiers at ATP Den Bosch 2015 Adam Addicott, Tennis Atlantic
Less than 24 hours after Stan Wawrinka’s impressive win over Novak Djokovic in the final of the French Open, the last round of qualifying got underway at the Topshelf Open in s-Hertogenbosch. The start of the competition saw two shock first round exits for the two highest ranked players, Chung Hyeon and Lucas Pouille, which paved the way for the lower rank players to book their place in the main draw.
The highest ranked player to survive the three qualifying rounds was 4th seed Tatsuma Ito who didn’t drop a set throughout the three rounds. In the final round Ito was up against Czech veteran Jan Hernych. The 35-year-old reached the final round after beating 8th seed Paul-Henri Mathieu in three sets. Hernych was however unable to produce another shock against the Japanese player as Ito took it 6-4, 6-4. In both sets the Czech took the lead by breaking Ito but failed to consolidate either of the breaks. The vulnerability of Hernych’s serve was problematic throughout as his rival battled to break him on five separate occasions.
Nicolas Mahut maintained his recent solid form with a three sets win over Kenny de Schepper. Prior to the tournament, the Frenchman beat Ernests Gulbis to reach the third round of the French Open, his best result at Roland Garros since 2012. The run also elevated 19 places back into the top 100. The match was however far from straightforward for the former Den Bosch champion as Schepper forced Mahut to recover from a set down during the match which lasted almost two hours. Mahut gradually took the match 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. De Schepper reached the main draw as a lucky loser.
Illya Marchenko endured a tough test against shock third round rival Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi from Pakistan. Qureshi is a doubles specialist and hasn’t qualified for the main draw of any singles tournament since the ATP Helsinki Challenger back in 2009. Despite his lack of participation in singles tournaments, the Pakistani player reminded many of why he has been ranked as high as 125 in the world by recovering from a set and 0-3 down to force proceedings into a final set. Unfortunately the fairy tale ending for the Pakistani failed to happen as Merchenko battled to win 6-4, 6-7(6), 7-5. A big win for the Ukrainian in both a physical as well as a mental way.
Finally, Marco Chiudinelli gave Swiss tennis fans yet another reason to celebrate as he completed the list of qualifiers. The Swiss player began qualification with a sensational straight sets victory over second seed Lucas Pouille, dropping just four games. He then beat wildcard Thiemo de Bakker in three sets to set up a final round showdown against world number 143 Pierre-Hugues Herbert. After being blown away in the first set by the Frenchman, Chiudinelli worked himself back into the match to win 1-6, 6-4, 6-1. It’s just the second tournament of 2015 for Marco.
(Q)Tatsuma Ito vs. Ričardas Berankis
Ito leads the head-to-head 2-0. He has beaten Berankis twice in 2014 in the final round of the Wimbledon qualification tournament and during the second round of qualification in Brisbane.
(Q)Nicolas Mahut vs. (WC)Lleyton Hewitt
Since 2008 they have played each other on three different surfaces (grass, clay and hard-courts). Hewitt leads the head-to-head 2-1, however, Mahut won their most recent meeting at the 2013 Newport Open which was on grass.
(Q)Marco Chiudinelli vs. Benoit Paire
(Q)Illya Marchenko vs. Mikhail Youzhny
(LL)Kenny de Schepper vs. Jurgen Melzer
2015 ATP Stuttgart and Den Bosch Previews and Predictions Steen Kirby, Tennis Atlantic
The grass season begins anew for 2015 with a pair of 250 level events. Stuttgart is switching to grass from clay this year, and Den Bosch in the Netherlands is a joint ATP/WTA event again this year. After a spring on the dirt, ATP World Tour stars will feel the blades of green grass under their feet. Stay tuned to Tennis Atlantic for on-site ATP Stuttgart coverage all week.
ATP World Tour 250
June 8-June 14, 2015
Prize Money: € 574,965
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Rafael Nadal (10)
2: Marin Cilic (9)
3: Feliciano Lopez (14)
4: Gael Monfils (16)
Stuttgart switching to grass gave them a stronger field than usual, Nadal is the top seed because he was ranked higher than Cilic at the time the seeds were drawn, though that has changed now with the new rankings. The seed cutoff is 28, as this is a strong field for a 250.
Rosol has a h2h win on grass in this matchup, Queen’s 2012, but that was a three set match. Rosol comes off a third round showing in Paris, while Baghdatis won a round at the grass Manchester challenger. Both of these guys are solid on the green stuff, as Rosol famously ball bashed to beat Nadal on this surface, and Baghdatis with his aggressive ball striking has shown his prowess before as well. I’d give Rosol a slight edge to advance with his power, but this one probably goes three sets again.
(WC)Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Kukushkin
Tommy Haas is making his return from shoulder surgery one year since he last played a match on the ATP tour. The 37 year old remains an ageless wonder, and it was surprising after he elected to come back after another injury, in a career marked by injuries, rather than retiring. On home soil, and on grass, a surface his all court game is well suited for, he should feel comfortable, but one has to wonder how much he has left in the tank at this point in his career, coming off an injury. Kukushkin is struggling mightily, and has for most of the season, so he’s a beatable round 1 opponent.
Brown has a 2-1 h2h over the higher ranked Janowicz and he qualified without dropping set here, well recognized as a solid grass court player, as he beat Rafa Nadal on this surface in Halle previously. Janowicz, a former Wimbledon semifinalist has been struggling this season, but he will look to grass to kickstart his game. This should be a close match, but I’m going with Brown in an upset victory.
Stakhovsky with his serve and volley game can be lethal on grass, as his famous Wimbledon win over Roger Federer proved, Groth comes off of a title in the Manchester challenger, and with his massive serve, he’s likewise a dangerous player on a quick surface. This is their first meeting, and it’s a hard match to pick, I give Groth a slight edge to advance.
Rafael Nadal, struggling this season by his standards, will open with the winner of Baghdatis/Rosol in what could be a tricky opening round test on the heels of his quarterfinal defeat at the French Open. Nadal’s worst surface is grass, and he hasn’t played well on it since 2011. Rafa has a strong h2h record, including a grass win over Baghdatis (06 Wimbledon semis), while he is 1-1 on grass against Rosol, losing to at Wimbledon 2012, but winning in four sets in 2014 at the same venue. Rosol is likely to be a tougher opponent, but either way I could well see Nadal losing that, the winner is likely to face the Bernard Tomic/Tommy Haas winner in the quarterfinals. Haas/Kukushkin will face Tomic or JL Struff. Tomic is an excellent grass court player who was having a great season before he hit clay, his worst surface. I expect grass to be a rebound for him as he should beat Struff, Haase, and then Nadal to reach the semis. Nadal is not trustworthy on grass right now if you ask me, and Haas is just coming off of injury, so Tomic doesn’t seem like that bold of a pick to me.
4 seed Gael Monfils will open with Andreas Haider-Maurer or Max Marterer a 19 year old German wild card. Marterer will have a shot at a win if he can play on grass, as AHM is a clay courter, either way, Monfils should cruise into the quarters, but he will get a tough opponent there. Philipp Kohlschreiber routined Alex Dolgopolov today, and he will face the Janowicz/Brown winner. All three of these guys are dangerous on grass and given given Kohli has a 2-0 h2h over Brown, I have him facing Monfils in the quarters. Kohlschreiber has a poor h2h against Monfils overall, but one of his two wins came on grass, meaning this meeting should be exciting if it takes place. Monfils has been in pretty good form as of late, and I’m going with him to advance to the semis.
Marin Cilic will open with either Peter Gojowczyk or Matthias Bachinger in the opening round, both Germans enter via qualifying, Bachinger was a lucky loser, and Gojowczyk qualified without dropping a set. Gojo has always been a talented underachiever in my mind but Cilic, who is improving in form and reached the second week at the French, will be a strong favorite to reach the quarters. There he probably faces the Benjamin Becker/Andreas Seppi winner. 7 seed Dominic Thiem is the seed, and opens with qualifier Mischa Zverev. Thiem is extremely inexperienced on grass, and prefers clay, thus the veteran Zverev will have a shot in that one. Becker is an excellent grass court veteran, while Seppi’s all court game can be dangerous as well, I’m going with Becker to beat Seppi, and Zverev to reach the quarters, where he will likely fall to Cilic.
3 seed Feliciano Lopez, who had a remarkable season on grass last year and is at his best on the surface opens with the Groth/Stakhovsky winner, a difficult task. Lopez has been in very poor form on clay, and he’ll be under pressure to preserve ranking points now, I still think he wins that match, and beats Viktor Troicki or Borna Coric in the quarterfinals. Wild card Alex Zverev, the younger brother of Mischa and an ATP young gun more suited for clay, opens with qualifier Mate Pavic. Look for Pavic to beat Zverev, and Troicki to slip past the inexperienced young gun Coric on grass, then beat Pavic to reach the quarters.
The German with American ties, Becker, reached a grass court final last year in Den Bosch (a tournament he won in 2009), and if he can get past Seppi, Cilic could slip up in the quarters, and he could upset him as well for a spot in the semis. He’s not the only possible dark horse in the draw, but with his good serve and quality baseline game, the crafty veteran could impress.
Semis: Monfils d. Tomic Cilic d. Lopez
Tomic vs. Monfils could go either way, I’m going with Monfils based off of form though, Tomic winning this title wouldn’t surprise me. Cilic has a h2h win on grass over Lopez, his form is better, and he’s done better on fast surface h2h meetings.
It’s been a slow road back for Cilic, and Monfils has struggled to stay healthy as well. I’m finally comfortable picking Cilic to perform like the top 10 player he is capable of as he seems fit, and the rust is starting to fade. Look for him to win in Stuttgart this week.
ATP World Tour 250*
s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands
June 8-June 14, 2015
Prize Money: € 537,050
*denotes joint ATP/WTA event
Top 4 seeds (who all receive first round byes) (ATP ranking in parentheses)
1: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga*/(5) Ivo Karlovic (27)
2: David Goffin (15)
3: Roberto Bautista Agut (21)
4: Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (34)
*Top seed Tsonga pulled out after a run to the French Open semis, thus the 5 seed Ivo Karlovic becomes the 1 seed in terms of the draw.
Den Bosch isn’t as strong of a field as Stuttgart, but it’s not bad for a 250, the lack of a top 10 player makes this an open draw.
First round matchups to watch:
(WC)Lleyton Hewitt vs. (Q)Nicolas Mahut
A pair of veterans who are retiring soon, Mahut, the champion of this tournament in 2013, qualified with relative ease and he’s a solid grass court player with his serve and volley skills, while Hewitt is of course a legend who counterpunches at his best on grass, though he has played an extremely light schedule so far this year. These players met in the 2013 Newport final on grass, and Mahut prevailed in three sets, prior to that Hewitt won a pair of h2h meetings on other surfaces. It’s a tough pick in regards to the winner of this, Mahut has played more recently, and Hewitt is in serious decline at this point in his career, thus I’m going with Nico, likely in three sets.
(6)Adrian Mannarino vs. Rendy Lu
Mannarino’s versatile game is well suited for fast surfaces like grass, while Lu is a steady flat hitting baseliner who excels on fast surfaces, especially hard courts. Mannarino beat Lu this year in three sets at Delray Beach, and as the higher ranked player, he should be the favorite, having performed well on hard courts this year, that said, Lu can rise to the occasion at times though he lacks weaponry, and this should be a good match. I have Mannarino winning it.
The big serving Karlovic will face Ricardas Berankis or Tatsuma Ito in round 2, Ito qualified with ease, so I’d expect him to win that round 1 match, before falling to Karlovic who has been struggling mightily for a while, but should find some form on grass. 7 seed Fernando Verdasco should be the favorite in the top section, he opens with dirtballer Daniel Gimeno-Traver and I’d also expect him to get past Robin Haase, who beat Blaz Kavcic in straights today. Haase beat Verdasco at Wimbledon 2011, but he’s not exactly a top player these days, plus he tends to struggle on home soil under pressure. Verdasco has lost twice to Karlovic on grass, but given recent form, this time I’m picking him to advance to the semis.
Defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut will get a tough R2 match against Hewitt/Mahut, if Mahut advances, RBA should still have an edge, as he beat him in Den Bosch last year (in 3 sets). RBA hasn’t been a world beater as of late but I favor him to reach the quarters. The Mannarino/Lu winner should also reach the quarters, unless Benoit Paire or Marco Chiudinelli, one of the qualifiers, is a surprise. Chiudinelli qualified in just his second tournament of 2015, while Paire has limited abilities on grass, though his form has been improved as of late. I have Mannarino over Paire, and then RBA over Mannarino for a spot in the semis.
David Goffin will face the winner of Kenny De Schepper/Jurgen Melzer in round 2. De Schepper is a lucky loser, but he still should defeat Melzer, the struggling veteran, and he’ll have a good chance against Goffin as well, given his game isn’t as well built for grass, while De Schepper’s big serve should help him find success. The section above De Schepper/Goffin is interesting, Joao Sousa/Denis Istomin is a toss-up match, while Mikhail Youzhny was formerly good on grass, and will open with qualifier Illya Marchenko who has been in good form as of late. Sousa has been better than Istomin this year, but Istomin has a better record on grass. I have Sousa beating Youzhny in the second round, Youzhny has been in awful form this year, and even with that previous success on grass I don’t see him getting far. Goffin over Sousa is my pick in the quarters, he has a 2-1 h2h edge.
4 seed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez will face Marius Copil, the Romanian wild card defeated Jarkko Nieminen in 3 sets on Monday. GGL should defeat Copil, though he comes off an opening round shock defeat at the French, but the winner of Vasek Pospisil/Gilles Muller could trouble him in the quarters. Pospisil routined the poor playing Marinko Matosevic in straights on Monday, while Muller blitzed Turkish #1 Marsel Ilhan with a bagel. Muller with his big serve is a threat on grass, as he also volleys well, and I see him defeating both Pospisil, and Garcia-Lopez to reach the semis. GGL has been a streaky player but I don’t feel his game is clicking right now.
The veteran serve and volleyer plays some of his best tennis on grass, and he looked strong today in his match. He has a draw that should open up if he can defeat Garcia-Lopez, and he well could win this tournament, as I have him reaching the final at a minimum with wins over Pospisil, Garcia-Lopez, and Goffin.
Semis: Bautista Agut d. Verdasco
Muller d. Goffin
It’s a coin flip between RBA and Verdasco if they meet in the semis, a 1-1 h2h and both have been streaky on grass before, RBA is higher ranked, both have huge forehand, and I’m going with RBA in my own bracket. Muller should defeat Goffin given this is grass.
Going with a non-seed to take the title in Den Bosch, it’s happened previously and RBA lost to Muller in the AO this year. On a slick fast surface, Muller’s serve and volley should be a deadly combination, and I have the veteran winning a title this week.