After the long grind of the European clay swing, players can now finally shake the red dirt from their shoes as attention focuses to the grass and events in Stuttgart and ‘s-Hertogenbosch this week.
The MercedesCup in Germany opens the now extended grass-court swing alongside the Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch and his week also heralds the return to action of a certain Swiss legend.
Roger Federer is the betting jolly and that’s not surprising given his resume on grass over the years. However it is said only dead fish go with the flow so please forgive us but we are against the great man this week.
There is no debating he’s one of the best-ever players to grace a grass court but he’s also 36 now and the fact of the matter is he might not yet be match fit given he has not played since Miami.
A year ago he was going along nicely in Germany before running into an inspired Tommy Haas. The German, giving the fans one last big performance in his swansong season on the Tour, saved a match point before prevailing 2-6, 7-6(8), 6-4 in a barn-burner of a match. Federer’s comments afterwards were noteworthy.
“It wasn’t all bad, not at all. There were definitely some good moments, but I definitely was not as sharp as I was hoping to be in maybe the big moments, or the moment when I had the lead and where I feel I should have been cruising from that moment on. I definitely made some crucial mistakes and judgment errors.”
An admission he was “not as sharp as I was hoping to be” then. And what’s changed since last year? Other than the fact he’s a year older. He’s only 2-2 at this event lifetime and with this in mind he looks short enough at 5/6.
The eight-time Wimbledon champion would obviously like to go deep here, but his main focus as always is SW19 and I’m sure he would gladly trade losses here and in Halle for another Wimbledon crown.
Dominic Thiem won in Stuttgart two years ago but after his final appearance at Roland Garros it would be asking a lot of him to repeat the trick this year.
Lucas Pouille is the defending champion and number two seed, with the Frenchman sending down 29 aces in a come from behind final victory over Feliciano Lopez in 2017. However, Pouille has been bang average this season and makes no appeal at 12/1.
Not so Milos Raonic. He missed Roland Garros to get himself ready for the grass and has some genuine form on the surface having made a Wimbledon final in 2016. He has a nice draw and if the serve clicks he will take all the beating this week.
At the Libema Open Gilles Muller is the pick to retain a title he won in some style 12 months ago. He went 11-2 on grass last year in fact and took out Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon during that sequence.
Muller is in the opposite side of the draw to Richard Gasquet and Fernando Verdasco and looks to have a great chance on what is unquestionably his favourite terrain.
Bilko’s Banker: Milos Raonic to win the MercedesCup at 10/1 (Coral/Ladbrokes)
Best of the Rest: Gilles Muller to win the Libema Open at 9/1 (bet365)
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