The true warm-up events for Wimbledon get underway this week. Two 500 level events, run concurrently, attract all the big names as they are perfectly situated to get ready for the grass Slam.
There are only six players from the top 50 not competing this week — Novak, probably because he doesn’t have to, Rafa and Thiem because they made the French final, Fognini because he hates grass and Isner and Nishikori because they are injured. So, barring injury, we’d probably be looking at 46/50. That means these draws are loaded. Let’s dig in.
The Fever Tree Championships at Queens, London is the far more interesting event. It is one of the oldest and most venerated stops on the tour and conditions are very similar to Wimbledon. As such, there are 7 of the top 20 in attendance and the only three people outside the top 50 in the draw are two British wild cards (one who certainly will be top 50 again shortly) and a former champion at the event. This is packed.
It does have a chalky history though so, we’re not looking for 50/1 outrights here. Every finalist in the last twenty years is either a high-ranking top 10 player or someone with an out-sized serve on grass (Querrey and Lopez). There has also only been three finals in the last dozen years that didn’t include a tiebreak and all three involved Andy Murray. So, that narrows the search parameters greatly; a great serve, a good record on grass, and being good in tiebreaks.
There are fourteen players in the draw who consistently, year after year, hold serve, on grass, more than 80%: Cilic, Delpo, Raonic, Tsitsipas, Anderson, Medvedev, Kyrgios, Dimitrov, Pouille, Shapo, Edmund, Lopez, Verdasco, and Chardy. The fact that they all hold serve so well, means they are all really good in tiebreaks. However, Shapo, maybe due to youth, Edmund, also maybe due to youth, Verdasco due to nerves, and Chardy because, well, he’s a .500 player over his career, all do not have winning tiebreak records. That leaves ten.
Again, because they are all really good at holding serve and winning tiebreaks, the remaining ten all have an outsized record on grass. So, how to separate ten guys who all excel on grass? What is the right cut off point for excellence on a surface? Well, let’s look at this tournament specifically — the only winner of this event since 1998!!! to have a less than 0.600 career winning percentage on grass is Grigor Dimitrov. He currently sits at 0.593 and if he hadn’t had such a poor last 18 months he might still be above 0.600. So, there’s the cut off, 0.600 career record on grass. That eliminates Anderson, Meds, Dimitrov, and Pouille. And leaves us with Cilic, Delpo, Raonic, Tsitty, Kyrgios and Lopez. Now what?
Well, none of these guys seem like they are in tip-top form, so that’s out the window. Raonic actually pulled out of Stuttgart in the semi’s with…. wait for it…. another injury. So, let’s toss him (if you read this column every week, you’ll know this is bitterness). Lopez is in semi-retirement and while he is still good on grass, he is probably not a threat against the big boys in tennis anymore — the only three top 20 guys he’s beaten in the past two years ae Goffin, Coric and Querrey. Goffin and Querrey are no longer anywhere near the top 20 and well, Coric is a nice win but, not something to hang an outright on (Coric just lost to Mannarino for crying out loud).
Cilic has only won back-to-back matches at two events in 2019 and he has exited seven different events in the first or second round. This doesn’t feel like a tourney favorite at 6/1.
Tsitsipas has a 0.600 career record but it is a true case of small sample size. He has only played ten matches. Of his six wins, only one has come against a top 50 player (Lucas Pouille in Halle last year). He’s out.
That leaves Nick Kyrgios and Juan Martin Del Potro. Both have great pedigree on grass, both ran real well on grass last year (8–3 and 5–1 respectively) and both have winnable first two matches to give themselves a chance to ‘get in the groove’. Tsitsipas is the #1 seed at the top of the draw and as just mentioned he doesn’t have a huge history of success on grass yet (that could obviously change, as the kid seems to be good at everything). The bottom half of the draw looks like too much of a crap-shoot, with Anderson coming back off injury, Wawrinka not favoring grass, and Cilic having a terrible year. Medvedev and Dan Evans may be the best options in what appears to be a wide open half of the draw but, Evans is coming off potentially back-to-back titles and could be tired, while Meds bombed out of Stuttgart and hasn’t looked right since Barcelona (0–5 streak).
Kyrgios and Delpo it is.
Next to some of the Rafa-dominated events on clay, this is the most boring event on tour to handicap. The people of Halle actually call it Federer’s ‘home’. Get this, Federer has attended this event 16 times. He has won it NINE times. He has made final TWELVE times. He has made the semis FOURTEEN times. He has made the quarters all SIXTEEN times. It’s crazy.
What’s even weirder is the collection of people Federer has lost to. A 19 year old Zverev, Tommy Haas, Nicolas Kiefer, Coric, on grass, and maybe some acceptable ones as a teenager to Michael Chang and Patrick Rafter. The only loss that could have been expected was maybe to Lleyton Hewitt. So, the strategy here is, expect Fed to make the final… or hope he suffers a shock upset along the way. And therefore, look to the bottom half of the draw.
The fourth quarter is a disaster, with a bunch of ageing vets and some quasi-tour players who spend as much time on the Challenger tour. Zverev is the big seed on the bottom but, as described last week, he is taking no breaks. He is now into his eleventh straight week of tennis and fifteenth in the last sixteen. That’s hard to back.
The third quarter is where it’s at. There was a wonderful article last year at DeepDiveMedia.co, based on Berrettini, that spelt out the success young players can have after they win a title. Berrettini won Gstaad last year and went to the quarters at Kitzbuhel the next week. This year he won Budapest and went to the final the next week in Munich. This kid doesn’t seem complacent. He also showed amazing skills on grass last week in winning Stuttgart and disposing of some great players in the process (Kyrgios, Khachanov and FAA).
The option in the third quarter is one of the players Berrettini beat in Stuttgart. Khachanov has good grass stats, has an easy first two matches and could easily be in the quarters against Berrettini on Friday.