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Steve Johnson from United States returns the ball to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber during their first round match at the Noventi Open in Halle Westphalia, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Friso Gentsch/dpa via AP)
Steve Johnson from United States returns the ball to Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber during their first round match at the Noventi Open in Halle Westphalia, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2019. (Friso Gentsch/dpa via AP)|Associated Press
Tennis

Tennis Thursday: Abrams picks the Noventi Open and Fever-Tree Championships – matches with Federer, Zverev, Kyrgios, Wawrinka, more

Matches at both tournaments start at 6 am EDT

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Noventi Open
Halle, Germany
Men’s Thursday’s picks

Matteo Berrettini over Andreas Seppi
Matteo Berrettini dusted off his “A” game and won the third title of his career last week, the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart, Germany, where he had wins over Nick Kyrgios, Karen Khachanov, Denis Kudla, Jan-Lennard Struff, and FA2. Not bad for the first grass court tournament of the season. Berrettini and Seppi played last year in this tournament and Seppi beat the Italian in straight sets. Assuming that Berrettini is playing better now, I’m going with Berrettini to even the score with Seppi and win this rematch over the 35-year-old Italian.

Roberto Bautista Agut over Richard Gasquet
RBA has triumphed in two out of the three matches these guys have played. But more importantly, RBA is 22-10 this year, while Gasquet is only 7-4 after each of their first round wins here. I think RBA is playing great tennis and Gasquet isn’t. That does it for me. Even though the grass might serve as a bit of an equalizer, I like the Spaniard in this match.

Sascha Zverev over Stevie Johnson
As I had predicted, Stevie Johnson has gotten a real boost from playing on the grass, where his serve and his slice backhand are real weapons. They go well with his booming forehand, which he shouldn’t have to rely on so much on the green stuff as he does on the clay and hard courts. But Zverev is one of the Top Five players in the world, and I don’t think it matters much on what surface they play. Zverev is a better tennis player, and barring any injury, or slip-and-fall on the slick grass, the German should slide right through this one.

Roger Federer over Jo-Willie Tsonga
It’s hard to believe that these guys have played 17 times (Federer holds an 11-6 advantage), but have squared off on grass only once, in the 2011 edition of Wimbledon. In that one, Tsonga won, 3-6, 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, after dropping the first two sets. But that’s yesterday’s news. Federer is an outstanding 28-4 this year, and Tsonga sports a 19-10 record, in which he’s had some bad losses but some great wins and a title. Tsonga has been less predictable and more inconsistent lately, as he’s entered his 30’s, and that makes picking his matches tough. But he’s playing Federer on grass, where Federer is almost always a safe pick to win, even at 37-years-of-age.

Fever-Tree Championships
Queens Club
London, England

Marin Cilic over Diego Schwartzman
Cilic is another player who has been maddeningly inconsistent in 2019, so picking him to win against a player who is ranked No. 23 has a lot of risk in it. But Cilic is 6’6”, and his serve is a giant weapon….even more so on grass than other surfaces. He’s been moving pretty well, and he has been running around his backhand lately to mash his forehand, which has resulted in a different dynamic in his game. He’s hitting a few more winners than in the past, but he’s also piling up more unforced errors, as he’s constantly trying to make up ground given up as he positions himself while trying to bomb his forehand for winners. Schwartzman will make him pay for that faux pas, but Schwartzman is too short (5’6”), and his steps cover less ground than Cilic’s, so this match will become more a test of who can make up for the other’s missteps than it would have in the past. I like Cilic because he just has too many weapons for Schwartzman to overcome.

Stefanos Tsitsipas over Kyle Edmund
The slick grass has been taking its toll on Stefanos Tsitsipas in this match, which began yesterday and will be finished today, with Tsitsipas up 6-3, 3-3. Tsitsipas is so quick, that when he changes directions the grass has been acting like an ice skating rink on his legs, and he has spent his share of time on the ground after his feet have slid this way and that. But ultimately I think the Greek would rather get his legs tangled and fall a few times than surrender his speed and quickness. I picked this match on Monday, and it appears to be going in the direction I had suspected.

Kevin Anderson over Gilles Simon
If Kevin Anderson’s shoulder is well, he’ll serve Gilles Simon off the court. Anderson looked okay in his first match here, taking out Britain’s Cam Norrie, with the match marked by long baseline rallies, which seemed oddly out of place for two big hitters like those guys. But Anderson prevailed in a tight one, and I don’t think he’ll have too much trouble with the speedy Simon, who’s game won’t get any extra points from the grass.

Nick Kyrgios over Roberto Carballes Baena
Adrian Mannarino, who won his first tournament last week in The Netherlands, came to Queens Club where he promptly defaulted his first round match to Nick Kyrgios, with a bruised left hand. So Carballes Baena got the spot in the draw as a lucky loser and will square off against the talented-but-tormented Aussie. Although I thought that Kyrgios would fall to the confident Mannarino, I think that Nick’s got enough magic to beat Carballes Baena, which should do wonders for his confidence going into Wimbledon. As I have said, Kyrgios has the best game on the Tour, and all he needs is to be in the proper frame of mind and to have a boatload of confidence in order to show off his skills. Maybe, just maybe, the stars are aligning for him.

Stan Wawrinka over Nico Mahut
Wawrinka seems to be hitting his peak right when he needs to, as he showed some fine tennis in Paris, which he appears to have carried over into this tournament with a first round win over Dan Evans. But Mahut, who had to qualify for this event, has a lifetime 3-0 record over the Swiss, and won the only time they’ve square off on grass. Wawrinka has been very inconsistent this year, with a good result in Paris and Madrid bookending two awful results in Geneva and Rome. Prior to that, he won one round in Monte Carlo but lost in Miami in his first match. Nonetheless, he played the match of the tournament when he won three tiebreakers over Dimitrov at the French, before losing to compatriot Federer. So he’s coming around, and if he plays well, he should get off the schneid and take out the Frenchman. But they’ll both go into this match knowing that Mahut hasn’t lost to Wawrinka.