The seeds of grass are grown in dirt and now that the red dirt season is behind us, its time to play on the fruits of that planting.
Grass season is finally here. It’s short and sweet. Six tournaments over three weeks in the lead-up to Wimbledon — almost no one plays more than two of the three weeks and everyone’s eyes are on the first week of July.
Grass is the quickest of the surfaces on tour and it is a dramatic shift from clay, which is the slowest. That makes for a weird dynamic where, as with almost no other portion of the season, form matters less now. Plenty of players who struggle through May and bomb out early at Roland Garros can play like fire and brimstone in the first week of June. So, keep that in mind.
Stuttgart is the far sexier and more historic tournament of the two that kicks off the season. Which is funny because up until about four years ago it was a clay event that took place in August along with Umag, Hamburg, etc. However, once it moved to grass, Stuttgart started attracting the biggest of the big names. And its results have been, consequently, chalk-filled. Rafa Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Lucas Pouille, and Roger. That’s a top four seed, who starts with a bye, each year. Additionally, being grass, they all have above average serves that they hold more than 82% of the time (Thiem was the lowest of the four in 2016). Further to that point, the only semi-finalist in the last four years on grass who didn’t hold serve at least 80% of the time was Benoit Paire (73%). So, a chalky champion, someone who probably gets an early bye, who has a big serve that he can hold 82% of the time or better and who, preferably, does well in tiebreaks. That’s what we’re looking for.
The four big seeds are Alex Zverev, Nicolas Bashilashvili, Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov. Zverev is concerning just because he is literally planning on NOT taking a break, ever. This will be the tenth straight week he is lacing up the shoes. He has been gifted a nice draw but, the end game won’t be easy and with that mileage and only a +225 outright, it’s a pass. Basilshavili would probably consider grass to be his worst surface. Three of the four years this tournament has been contested on grass, a seeded player with a bye has been upset in the first round. Basher would be the contestant for that award this year. Khachanov would be an option. He has an incredible career record on grass of 0.714, he held serve on grass 79% of the time in 2017 and 84% of the time in 2018, and he made a semi-final on grass in 2017. The concern with KK? An incredibly tough draw. Tough as it gets. If you narrow the field, beyond, the big four seeds to guys who are good on grass, with big serves, and success on grass you would get guys like Raonic, Monfils, Kyrgios, Steve Johnson and Kohlschreiber. Well, Monfils, Johnson and Kyrgios landed in Khachanov’s quarter, while Kohlschreiber and, of course, Medvedev are in the third quarter. Khachanov’s path could be Kyrgios, Monfils, Medvedev, Raonic/Zverev. LOL. That’s a Slam path, not a 250.
That leaves Medvedev. Good on grass (0.591), great combined hold/break stats, holds serve well over 80% on this green surface, has a career winning record in tiebreaks and is well rested after a rough Rome/French Open. His draw is tough but, manageable considering Pouille, despite being a former champ here, is in really poor form. Kohl is 35 and also not in the greatest of form and Shapo has never won back-to-back matches on grass in his career. The whole bottom half is tough but, Meds has the grass pedigree and the easier of the two quarters. At 5/1 he is a solid bet.
If you are looking for a longer number and want the top half of the bracket look to Milos. The first quarter should be Zverev’s but, as described above, his price is not great. The second quarter may be the weakest of the lot, with an attackable seed and a bunch of guys who are either in rough form or are not great on grass. Basher, as described above is not great on grass, neither is Fucs. Mischa has lost an uncountable number of matches in a row and Munar has never played a match on grass. Tsonga is a threat but, he didn’t play last year on the grass and he has a strong of concerning losses to fellow big servers on grass — Muller, Karlovic, Querrey. Milos fits that mold. If he can stay healthy, he should make the semis and be close to a pick’em with Zverev. That should allow some room to play with a 9/1 number.
The ugly step-child of week one. It’s been around for almost thirty years and has a plethora of unlikely champions. Gilles Muller won one of his two career titles here; Nic Mahut won three of his career four titles here; Dimitry Tursunov won one of his six career titles here; and RBA won one too. A true list of guys who succeed in 250 level events. Ferrer, RBA, Ljubicic and Gasquet are the only past winners this century who have won anything besides a 250 level event. Winners the last four years consist of Gasquet (#30), Muller (#28), Mahut (#49) and Mahut (#97). There is big money to be made here as long numbers can come through.
What is different this year is that top seeds like Tsitsipas and Coric have decided to attend. Whether they are motivated to go deep is up for question and the guess here is it’s still best to look for a long shot. The semi-finals the last four years here have consisted of the following ranks: #83, #97, #53, and #15 in 2015; #44, #28, #37, and #49 in 2016; #7, #24, #28, and #10 in 2017; and #72, #69, #181, #30 last year. Find the right long shot.
You still want to find someone who can hold serve over 82% of the time — the only semi-finalist in the past four years who had a hold percentage below that was Muller (74% in 2016) but, it was merely off of a small sample size that year, as his career numbers on grass are much better.
So, let’s avoid Tsitty, Coric and their low prices by looking at the second and third quarters. The second quarter has some interesting names for grass. DeMinaur is ostensibly (he trained overseas too) from Australia where grass is one of the native surfaces; Tiafoe has a career winning record on grass already at 21 and Chardy has a huge serve that plays well on this surface, resulting in huge 2018 (won Surbiton, finalist here, and semi-finalist in London last year). Chardy is a great option at 28/1 but, the play might be DeMinaur. He is ready to burst out. He dominated the grass season at the Challenger level last year, losing to Chardy in the Surbiton final and winning Nottingham the next week. He won Sydney this year already so he won’t be nervous at the business end of the week and 10/1 isn’t terrible.
In the third quarter, the grass specialist who sticks out is Matthew Ebden. He made the finals in Newport in 2017, lost to DeMinaur in the semis at Surbiton last year, and went to the semis here before losing to Chardy. At 33/1 he has the biggest number of the guys who consistently hold over 80% of their serves and average a combined hold/break number over 100% on grass.
Raonic +900, x1
Medvedev +500, x1
DeMinaur +1000, x0.5
Ebden +3300, x0.5