In a day that had contrasting themes at the 2 premier Grass Court warm-ups, Queen’s Club secured a dream-final with top seed Murray setting up a title clash with the 3rd seed Milos Raonic where as Halle had to weather through the upsets of the top seeds to end up with a 3rd all unseeded final (since the inception) of the tournament. The Germans will not be complaining, however, as they also got an all-German final for only the second time in the history of the tournament.
Of particular interest to tennis fans in the Gerry Weber Open finale would be the fact that it features one of the most promising youngsters around – Alexander Zverev. All of 19years and 2months, Zverev has been resetting the clock on a few of the teenage/youngster records in the game and he delivered a few on the semifinal day with his impressive 3 set win over 17 slam Champion Roger Federer : 7-6(4), 5-7, 6-3.
Let us list a few of Zverev’s achievements here. He is the first teenager to beat Federer since a 19 year old Andy Murray did so in Cincinnati 2006. He is the youngest player to take down Federer since a 19 year Rafael Nadal ushered Federer out of the 2005 French Open (on Nadal’s birthday, no less). That is good company to be mentioned in and in the final Zverev can keep the historians and statisticians just a little more busy.
The young phenom started off the semifinal against, arguably, the greatest grass court player and tennis player of all time, in very impressive fashion. He was hitting laser like serves in the right spots and gave Federer no chance at taking control of the points. As Zverev shut Federer out of his service games, the pressure on the 34 year old on his own serve games gradually built up. To the 7 time Wimbledon Champion’s credit, he held his serve without giving Zverev a look at break point.
The pressure on the Federer serve reached a culmination in the tie-break and the King of tie-breaks blinked in the breaker to lose the tie-break and the set. The best grass court player of this millenium started turning the match around as Zverev started descending the lofty confines he was flying around, in the first set. A combination of Federer’s more consistent play and the scoreboard pressure gave Federer the second set when he broke Zverev in the 11th game of the set and then served it out 7-5.
Federer continued his good work into the third set and created opportunities on the Zverev serve in the early games but failed to close the deal on the precious openings and as things rolled, midway into the set, Zverev – one would suspect his nerves settled – started finding the range that gave him the first set. As with the first set, Federer blinked on his serve – only sooner this time and the young German barged through that opening to knock out the 8 time Halle Champion in the semifinals of a grass court tournament for the second successive week.
With the top-seeded Federer out of the tournament, tennis fans were hoping to have a final featuring two promising youngsters, only for the veteran Florian Mayer to say, not so fast. The two time Wimbledon quarterfinalist was on his game from ball 1 and as a weary Dominic Thiem found out, Mayer’s game can be quite lethal.
With his unique but effective gamestyle, Mayer took control of the first set taking it 6-3 with a break of serve, but more interestingly losing only two points on his serve, the entire set. The second set was a to and fro affair with 4 double faults from the Thiem end and a total of 3 breaks of serve. Mayer, however, held on to his nerve and gave a better account of his serve to win the match 6-3, 6-4 in just over an hour.
Thiem should be looking at this a “good loss” as it gives him an extra day to recharge and be ready for the biggest tournament on the tennis calendar. Having logged in the most matches to have been played this year, Thiem will have to ensure he is not burnt out physically/mentally as the big tournaments come around in the second half of the year. As for Mayer, he will have to take this opportunity to face an inexperienced youngster in the final and not Federer – against whom he is 0-7 in matches and 1-15 in sets, and hope he can get better of a, relatively, more experienced player for the second day in a row.
Prediction: Zverev will have to control his emotions that must be surging after his humongous win in the semifinals and make sure his game flows like it did yesterday. I believe he will do exactly that and win the final in two tough sets.
In the other grass court tournament of the week, the top seeds had a better day as Andy Murray and Milos Raonic with Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe by their side, respectively, ensured a blockbuster finale to the tournament that has tennis fans purring over the match as a showdown of two of the greatest legends of the 80s.
The two had contrasting semifinal matches as Murray had to battle Marin Cilic, a previous Queen’s Club winner, in a 3 set match, that nearly lasted 2hours. Murray started off well and finished on a strong note, however for a brief period Cilic was able to remind everyone that he has the kind of game that can hurt even the best on anyone surface. The 2014 US Open Champion went down 3-6, 6-4, 3-6 to the British No.1
With Lendl back in his team, Murray has started the grass court season with renewed energy and he’s now 28-2 on grass courts under Lendl’s guidance. The partnership has also yielded Murray two of his biggest titles on grass – the 2012 Olympics Gold and the 2013 Wimbledon. To keep his chances for another big title high, Murray will have to continue his four match winning streak against Raonic and make sure he goes to Wimbledon, unbeaten on grass.
Raonic continued his big strides this season, after a brief lull on clay, to make the final with a reassuring 6-4, 6-4 win over the Australian maverick Bernard Tomic. Tomic, who is quite the tricky player on grass, had to face some dominant serving from Raonic – who dropped only 3 points in the entire first set. While Tomic was adept on his first serve, Raonic absolutely punished him on the second serve, winning 7 out of 8 points.
Tomic started taking better care of his second serve in the next set, but his inability to make inroads into the Raonic serve meant that the pressure was always on the Australian and Raonic was in no mood to give any way back in for the 2011 Wimbledon quarterfinalist. Raonic converted one of the 2 break points he head and Tomic was unable to make use of his only set point of the set and the match and that, as they say, was that.
Prediction: This being their first grass court showdown and their close H2H is going to make this one a tough one to call. Murray will edge this out in a close 3 set match to become the first player in open era to win 5 Queen’s Club titles.
–Prakash Potukuchi [ Prakash is the co-founder of Sportz Cosmos. He tweets here.]