ATP Grass Season Review

As mentioned in my previous post, the grass season is over for another year. This previous post covered the WTA’s grass season with 4 tournaments being held on the luxury green surface. This post will review the grass season on the ATP Tour, where 6 tournaments are played with an extra one held after Wimbledon. These six events are held in Halle, London (Queens Club), S-Hertogenbosch, Eastbourne and Wimbledon, with three of these events hosting a draw on the WTA side. During the first two weeks of the ATP grass season, tournaments were held in Halle and at the Queens Club in London. The first to be reviewed will be the Gerry Weber Open in Halle.

The line-up at Halle featured arguably the greatest two male players of all time with defending Champion Roger Federer and 14-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal signing up to the pre-Wimbledon event.

Two other top-10 players lined up next to the two great champions, with promising youngsters Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori hoping to get some grass match practice. If the draw panned out how the seeds were set, then these four players who face-off in the semi-finals but only two reached that round. In the shock of the tournament, entertaining Dustin Brown destroyed Nadal 6-4 6-1 to give the home fans something to cheer about and Rafa something to ponder ahead of the third slam of the year. Raonic was the other top seed knocked out in the second round, with another German, this time Peter Gojowczyk, knocking out a top 4 seed. In contrast, Federer and Nishikori negotiated the early rounds well to set-up a Semi-final encounter between the pair. Nishikori surprisingly had a 2-1 head-to-head record in his favour but the Swiss legend, tied their head-to-head by winning 6-3 7-6 (4). His final opponent was to be Alejandro Falla, who had shocked his way through despite not facing a seed along the way. Few gave Falla a chance against the King of Halle and they were proved to be correct with Federer winning his 7th Gerry Weber title in two tie-breaks, winning 7-6 (2), 7-6 (3). Federer also featured in the doubles final where him and his partner, Marco Chiudinelli, lost to Andre Begemann and Julian Knowle despite having multiple Championship points. He had played well all week in capturing another Halle title, but could he win a record 8th Wimbledon?

During the same week, the Aegon Championships was held at the Queens Club in London. The line-up was as strong as the Halle list with players such as Andy Murray, Tomas Berdych and Stan Wawrinka all scheduled to play. Murray, the defending champion, exited the tournament at the 3rd round stage, losing to tour veteran Radek Stepanek in straight sets. The match signalled the end Murray’s long unbeaten streak on grass, which started way back in 2012, during the Olympics at Wimbledon. With Murray out, this paved the way for Wawrinka or Berdych to lift the trophy but both were knocked out by the two eventual finalists.

Rising star Grigor Dimitrov was the conqueror over Wawrinka with Feliciano Lopez dumping out the tall Czech. Lopez was also the man to end Stepanek’s gallant run into the semi-finals with Dimitrov’s win over Wawrinka coming in the other semi-final. The final itself was breathtaking with each set going the distance after each player repeatedly held. In the end it was Dimitrov who won the 2014 Aegon Championships, coming back from a set down to defeat the Spaniard. There was also a nice tough from the young Bulgarian, who gave away one of his rackets to the man who gave him a wildcard into the event many years ago, Chris Kermode. The tournament’s 2nd seeds Alexander Peya and Bruno Soares won the doubles event by beating Brit Jamie Murray, brother of Andy, and his Australian partner John Peers who had stunned the Bryan brothers in the second round. So Dimitrov collected his first title on grass. Could he lift another in a few weeks?

The following week featured two more tournaments played at the same time, with grass events being held in Eastbourne and S-Hertogenbosch. The line-up at Eastbourne held less common names than at Halle or Queens Club but it gave players outside the top 10 a chance to go far. The most notable name, Richard Gasquet, was seeded first at the tournament and it showed as the Frenchman made his way to the final with the loss of only one set. Alexandr Dolgopolov pulled out of the tournament without playing a match and remained a doubt going into Wimbledon.

Gasquet’s final opponent would be the recent Queen’s Club runner-up Lopez, who had continued his fine grass form by not losing a set before the final. Just like at the Queen’s Club, Lopez won the first set before Gasquet leveled the match up at 1 set all in a tie-break. Fortunately for Lopez, there was going to be no repeat of what happened at the Aegon Championships, as he took the final set 7-5 to win the Eastbourne title. Gasquet was coming into the tournament with little match time since his injury and performed well to take the final to a deciding set. There was to be British success in the doubles with Dominic Inglot and his Phillipine partner, Treat Huey, beating Queen’s winner Soares and Peya. Was this the start of yet more British success on grass this summer?

With David Ferrer pulling out injured, the line-up at S-Hertogenbosch featured no players inside the World’s top 20, with Fernando Verdasco the top ranked player.

He fell at the Quarter-final stage to Jurgen Melzer with each set decided by a tie-break. Third seed Roberto Bautista-Agut became the tournament’s top remaining player and reached the final where he was to play Benjamin Becker of Germany. Becker took the first set comfortably but Bautista-Agut took control of the match by winning a second-set tie-break and eventually the match. This was his first grass title and he did it the hard way, with many of his opponents comfortable on grass. To the delight of the Dutch crowd, Jean-Julien Rojer and Romanian Horia Tecau collected the doubles title, winning in straight sets over Santiago Gonzalez and Scott Lipsky. The pre-Wimbledon events were over and the main event was about to kick-off. Who would win arguably the best title in tennis?

Defending Champion Andy Murray opened play on Centre Court for the 2014 Championships, seeing off David Goffin in straight sets, despite small wobble in the third. He reached the second week of the tournament along with the other three members of the ‘Big Four’; Novak Djokovic, Nadal and Halle winner, Roger Federer. After seeing off Goffin, Murray defeated Blaz Rola and Roberto Bautista-Agut in similar fashion to reach the second Monday. Djokovic saw off Andrey Golubev comfortably before a struggle against Radek Stepanek and a tight three set victory over Gilles Simon. Federer made light work of Paolo Lorenzi and big server Gilles Muller before beating Santiago Giraldo on the middle Saturday, all without a loss of a set. Nadal had the toughest passage of the top 4 seeds and had to come from a set down in each of his first three matches. Martin Klizan was the first player edged out before his 2012 conqueror Lukas Rosol, troubled him for around a set and a half, before Rafa took control. In the third round Mikhail Kukushkin won the first set tie-break before only winning a further 3 games. The big four were still on course to meet.

The biggest shocks of the first week both came during the second round with Andrey Kuznetsov dumping out 7th seed David Ferrer in an intriguing 5 set battle. It was clear to see that Ferrer wasn’t himself but take nothing away from the young Russian who took his chance when offered. The other high casualty shock came when rising Australian star Nick Kyrgios saved several match points against Richard Gasquet, before completing the biggest win of his life. At that point at least. British hope again rested on Murray with no other male player making it past the first round, despite many being granted wildcards. So the three questions asked above were still to be answered with Federer, Dimitrov and Murray all remaining in the second week. Perhaps it will be someone vaguely mentioned who will lift the 2014 trophy…

All 3 made it to the Quarter-Final stage with Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka and Milos Raonic joining them. One big name wouldn’t. Nadal had struggled through each round thus far but many believed that he was beginning to click and remained one of the favourites.

His fourth round opponent was Gasquet’s conqueror Kyrgios, who continued his stunning run. Again Rafa dropped the first set but levelled the match up at a set each. Surely advantage the Spaniard? Stunningly it was the young Australian progressing, knocking out the two-time Wimbledon Champion in 4 sets, creating the biggest shock of the 2014 championships. Nadal was due to his old rival Federer in the semi-finals but now the road cleared for the 7-time Champion to reach another final. He saw off his good friend Wawrinka in a close 4 set tussle in the Quarter-Finals after the momentum had swayed Federer’s way after a second set tie-break. Attempting to stop Roger’s quest for an 8th SW19 title would be rising star Raonic, who had ended Kyrgios’ dream run in the Quarters. In the other half of the draw one of the above questions was answered in stunning fashion with Dimitrov ending Murray’s title defence in straight sets. Dimitrov bossed throughout against an off-sort Murray who barely got going at any stage. The young Bulgarian’s semi-final opponent would be top seed Djokovic who beat Cilic in an exciting 5-set match after the Croatian had led by 2 sets to 1. Both semi-finals looked mouth-watering.

The first semi-final between Dimitrov and Djokovic looked to be the most exciting with the arguable leader of the new generation, taking on one of the best in the world. The match delivered well but not in the same way as most had thought. The match was in the balance at 1-set all before Djokovic used his experience and skill to win the final two sets and reach his 3rd Wimbledon final. Dimitrov had his chances but his best years are surely to come. It was a superb 2014 grass season for Grigor. If the first semi-final didn’t quite live up to high expectations then the second disappointed more. Mind you, Federer and his fans wouldn’t have cared. He did the business and that’s all he wanted to do. The Swiss maestro defeated Raonic in straight sets, breaking the big Canadian’s serve right at the end of each set to avoid any tie-breaks. Raonic didn’t play to his best, perhaps overpowered by the situation he found himself in but Federer did everything well and remained patient to eventually break late in each set.  So there was to be no British success on the ATP Tour this year, and Dimitrov wasn’t quite ready to lift the big title on grass. Could Roger win a record 8th Wimbledon or would Djokovic be the vaguely mentioned player lifting the trophy? It would take a while to find out but it was well worth the wait.

Both players started well and held serve continuously to reach a first set tie-break. Despite having two set points, Djokovic surrendered the first set to a pumped up Federer after netting an attempted backhand down the line. Down a set, Novak immediately responded by breaking serve in the 3rd game of the set to lead 2*-1. The set continued with each player holding serve repeatedly up to 5*-4 in the Serb’s favour. Out of nowhere the Swiss star had a break point but Djokovic held his nerve and saved the break point before holding and winning the set 6-4. The third set went the same way as the first set as the match required another tie-break after neither player could break the other’s serve. The tie-break continued in the same manner but whilst Djokovic upped his game, Federer’s dipped and the Serb took full advantage to win the it 7-5 and lead by 2 sets to 1. Djokovic was only one set away from another Wimbledon title and he seemed to have one hand already on the trophy when he broke serve to lead 3*-1. All he had to do was continue to hold serve, something which he had done all match long. Suddenly Federer came to life and immediately broke back thanks to a superb cross-court forehand to secure his first break of the final. However, Federer handed all the momentum seemingly back to Novak as he was broken to trail 2-4*. Novak surely had one hand on the trophy again? After both players held serve again, Djokovic was serving for the title at 5*-3. What followed was incredible with Djokovic being broken whilst serving for the title but Federer still had to hold his own serve to extend the match. After a long rally Federer netted a backhand and Djokovic had his first Championship point. ‘Fed’ served and the ball was called out whilst the crowd screamed in celebration, prompting a challenge. Hawkeye showed the ball was in and therefore the championship point had been saved by a strong ace. Using all the momentum and the crowd’s support, Federer broke again before serving the set out to win it 7-5 and take this already crazy final, into a fifth and deciding set. The Swiss man had won 5 games in a row to win the fourth set. Djokovic had the trophy virtually in his hands but suddenly Federer came alive and looked to be the favourite.

With both players tiring it was the Djokovic serve which was under threat first with Djokovic eventually holding to stay even. Then came the crucial point. With the Serb serving at 4-4 and 15-15, the ball looped up for Federer to finish the point with an overhead volley to give himself a half chance of securing the crucial break. Perhaps due fatigue or nerves, Federer netted it and the chance was gone. That point proved to be the turning point in the final set with Federer finding himself 5-4 down and serving at 15-40 trying to save the match.

This time Djokovic took his Championship point and raised his arms aloft after Fed had netted another backhand, to clinch his second Wimbledon title and his Seventh Grand Slam success. In conclusion the Serb deserved to win the final as he just held the edge on the bigger points throughout, although you would have fancied Federer to win before the start of the 5th. For the Swiss star it was a hugely successful tournament despite ultimately losing when it mattered. For the Serb, it proved exactly why he had hired Boris Becker to become his coach; To win the Grand Slam finals. The doubles title was won by young pair Jack Sock and Vasek Pospisil who defeated the Bryan brothers in a stunning upset. The pair had only signed up for the draw days before! So it was Novak Djokovic who lifted the 2014 Wimbledon Championships and answered one of the questions positively. It was a player vaguely mentioned that lifted the trophy this year.

After all this excitement it was surprising that there was another grass event in the calendar, at Newport in the USA. The draw only featured 3 players inside the world top 50 but the tennis was of high quality featured another classic final.

The two finalists were Aussie Lleyton Hewitt and big-serving Ivo Karlovic; Both who had gone out early at Wimbledon. It was Hewitt who rolled back the years to clinch yet another grass title for the veteran, winning the Hall of Fame Championships 6-3 6-7 (4) 7-6 (3). It proved to be Hewitt’s year at Newport with the doubles title being added to his singles trophy after partnering fellow Aussie Chris Guccione in defeating Jonathan Erlich and Rajeev Ram in the final.

Yet again the ATP Tour was blessed with a strong and hugely entertaining grass season, ending with various different winners at each event. The highlight surely has to be the Wimbledon final but other moments like Kyrgios’s stunning win over Nadal and Dimitrov’s breakthrough are right up there. It’s such a shame the grass season is so short…

So what was your favourite part of the grass season on the ATP Tour? Feel free to comment below.

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