Tennis Saturday - Abrams on Mercedes Cup, Libema Open, Raonic v Auger-Aliassime, Struff v Berrettini, Thompson v Gasquet, Mannarino v Coric
Milos Raonic over Felix Auger-Aliassime
This is an interesting match between the two guys representing two different generations of excellence in Canadian tennis. Milos Raonic, aged 28 and ranked 18th, is a Tour veteran who, primarily because of his booming serve, has been a Grand Slam finalist, and has been ranked as high as third in the world. He got to the quarters of this year’s Australian Open where he lost to Tsisipas in four tough sets, and the semis in Miami, but has struggled with injuries for most of the Spring season, and is hoping to be near 100% come time for Wimbledon. FA2, representing the NextGen of not only Canadian players but future worldwide Tour stars, is a rapidly improving 18-year-old who has stardom written all over him. He possesses every shot in the book along with professional movement, poise, strategy, stature, and ability. How he has adjusted to the grass this quickly has been a revelation, and soon we will be praising this future champion as one of the three or so players to beat at almost every tournament he enters. But not just yet. I think Raonic’s serve and court awareness are a notch above FA2’s at this point, and I think the veteran will fight particularly hard to make sure that his stature as the best and most popular Canadian is not passed on just yet. I like Raonic in three close sets on the grass here in Stuttgart.
Jan-Lennard Struff over Matteo Berrettini
Struff must love playing in front of his countrymen in Germany, because he’s roared into the semis with victories over Denis Shapovalov (another young Canadian superstar-in-the-making), Miomir Kecmanovic and Lucas Pouille, all without losing a single set. The grass seems to suit Struff’s game, as he is one of the most aggressive players on the Tour. Yet Matteo Berrettini has had a rebirth himself, here on the German grass with consecutive wins over Nick Kyrgios, Karen Khachanov, and Denis Kudla, all also without losing a set. I would never have expected Berrettini to have those three wins, nor would I have expected him to make a run all the way to the semis in the first grass court tournament of the season, but he has played like a world-beater this week, and if he continues to play that well he will beat Struff. The one thing we all know about all of the players on the ATP Tour is that they are all wonderful players and if any one of them gets hot and enters “the zone”, that player could win any tournament. But here, we have two players in the zone, as neither has dropped a set. So I’m going with Struff because of intangibles: he’s playing in front of his home crowd, he’s more aggressive than Berrettini and the surface should reward him for that, and because he’s more experienced and been around the block a bit more than the Italian. Should it go the other way, it wouldn’t necessarily surprise me.
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Jordan Thompson over Richard Gasquet
Jordan Thompson overcame the loss of the first set and a history of falling to countryman Alex de Minaur, to top his young rival 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 Friday in the quarters. Thompson is clearly very comfortable on the slick grass, and the surface rewards his attacking style of play, as it does with Struff in Stuttgart. This will be the first match between these guys, and usually I’d go with Gasquet, the dashing Frenchman, in this semifinal clash, because of his experience and his world-class backhand, but something tells me that this is Thompson’s week. He’s had three very good, tough wins in a row, appears to be striking the ball well, and is very confident. Gasquet has taken out three players that he is better than, and has done nothing extraordinary in that task. Should Thompson and Gasquet continue along this path, I think the Brit goes home the winner. However if Gasquet is motivated and wants to win, rather than just show up, or entertain the crowd, the match could tip in the Frenchman’s favor.
Adrian Mannarino over Borna Coric
I think France’s 44th ranked Adrian Mannarino has been playing the best tennis of anyone in the Netherlands. He has wins over wild card Thiemo de Bakker, the tough Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, and 5th seeded David Goffin. His win over Goffin was particularly impressive, as he was down 4-0 in the first set and seemingly getting outclassed, but was able to muster his forces and reel off the last two sets for an impressive win. Coric, ranked #14 and 2nd seeded here, has played well in his two wins, topping American Taylor Fritz and Chile’s Cristian Garin, both in three close sets. But I’m going with the underdog here, because Mannarino seems to be on a roll to me, is enjoying the forgiving grass courts, and holds a career 2-0 advantage over Coric. Importantly, in my opinion, the second of those two wins came two years ago when Mannarino topped Coric in straight sets on the grass in Turkey. I think that win gives Mannarino extra confidence, especially in this venue, on this surface.