The grass court swing continues on the 2021 ATP Tour in week 24, with many of the big names starting their preparations for Wimbledon at either Halle or Queen’s Club.
Roger Federer, Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev are due to be in Halle for the ATP 500 Noventi Open, while the cinch Championships (Queen’s Club to you and me and the Stella Artois for the older readers) has attracted a less than stellar field, but still has the likes of Andy Murray and Matteo Berrettini in it.
But before I get into that, a look back at the Mercedes Cup.
It was a disappointing and slightly frustrating start to the grass swing for us, with three weak performances from players that can do a lot better than they did in Stuttgart.
Alexei Popyrin was really lacklustre against Feli Lopez first up, while Jeremy Chardy’s concentration went AWOL for long enough for him to lose against Yannick Hanfmann.
Lloyd Harris showed glimpses of how effective he could be on the grass, but didn’t really seem fully engaged in a loss to Felix-Auger Aliassime in the last-16.
And it was Auger-Aliassime and Marin Cilic – two of the market leaders – that made the final in the end, so I’m not too displeased at missing out on backing either of those two at their prices, particularly FAA, whose woeful record in final continues.
Conditions and trends
This week we’re in Halle and Queen’s and we usually see a fair bit of slipping and sliding at the OWL Arena and the angle that the sun enters the court through the roof structure often leads to softer patches and some of the court being in shade (rather like in Madrid).
It’ll be slick and low bouncing and as Roger Federer has aged there have been a couple of big priced outright winners: 50-1 Borna Coric in 2018 and 66-1 Flo Mayer in 2016, while 28-1 David Goffin was a finalist here in 2019.
Qualifiers have had a poor record in Halle over the years, with only one bettering round two in the last seven years and only Nicklas Kulti in 1999 has made the final from the qualifying draw.
Queen’s Club is the joint-highest event on the tour in terms of serve holds (Halle is joint-third) and over 50% of its matches have featured at least one tie break in the last seven editions.
Veterans Feli Lopez and Gills Simon were the 40-1 and 90-1 (respectively) finalists the last time this was played in 2019 and Lopez also won it as a 25-1 shot in 2017.
Indeed, Lopez is the only player to have won Queen’s as a non-seed since Scott Draper in 1998 and qualifiers tend to do equally poorly here as they do in Halle, with Nicolas Mahut’s run to the quarters in 2019 being the first time that any qualifier has done that since H-T Lee in 2004.
Noventi Open Halle
Assuming that they all turn up, this looks a strong Halle field, with the top half of the draw including Federer, Medvedev and Zverev, plus the likes of Kei Nishikori, Sam Querrey, Felix Auger-Aliassime, and Roberto Bautista Agut.
The rest of the half looks decent as well, with Vasek Pospisil, Jan-Lennard Struff, Hubert Hurkacz, Ugo Humbert and Seb Korda all more than capable of causing an upset or two.
But it’s Medvedev that looks the right favourite to win what would be a first grass court title given that the slick, low-bouncing surface should suit his game nicely and he comes here in good form after a better than expected display in Paris.
It’s far from an easy draw for Medvedev, with every match having the potential to be tricky, but if he comes through the early rounds I’d fancy his chances against Federer in the quarters (potentially) and then he’d be a good favourite for the semis.
By contrast, the bottom half looks much the better place to be from a player’s point of view, with Stefanos Tsitsipas a possible non-starter after his Paris efforts, or if he does show up he won’t have had much time to feel the grass under his feet before he has to play his opening match.
David Goffin’s draw looks good and the 2019 finalist really should be making at least the quarter finals again from the draw that he’s been given, but form is an obvious worry with Goffin.
He’s won only two of his last six since losing a bad one to Dan Evans in Monte-Carlo and when he made the Halle final in 2019 he’d already played on grass the week before in Rosmalen.
Karen Khachanov has a respectable record on grass, but it’s surely too low-bouncing and quick for him ideally, however his round one opponent and Davis Cup team-mate Andrey Rublev has a limited record on the surface as well.
The winner of that match will have a fair chance of making the final, but I don’t trust either of them enough on grass to back either one of them outright this week.
I’m tempted to give Lloyd Harris another go after we backed him last week, with Harris facing Gael Monfils in round one and in a quarter of the draw that might be very open indeed if Tsitsipas is a no show.
Monfils rarely puts much of an effort in during the grass swing, but maybe given his lack of recent matches this time around he might be more inclined to give it a go. Who could possibly say with Lamonf?
What puts me off Harris is that he’s the same price (33-1) in a 500 as he was last week in a 250, so while I still think he was good value in Stuttgart I’m not seeing his price this week the same way.
Guido Pella and Gilles Simon don’t appear as though they have a great deal left to offer at the moment, while Daniel Altmaier is more at home on the clay and has no sort of record on grass.
Special exemption Juri Rodionov retired after injuring a hip in Stuttgart on Saturday, while wild card Philipp Kohlschreiber had a great record here, but what has he got left in the tank at 37?
Surely not enough to make a first final in Halle for a decade and maybe Jordan Thompson can take advantage of the frailties of others in this quarter of the draw, but it’s hard to see Thompson winning a 500 (or a 250 for that matter).
Qualifiers have a poor record in Halle, but if Tsitsipas doesn’t show one of the three that have made it through and into Q4 of this draw could well have a good week.
Nikoloz Basilashvili doesn’t look a natural on this surface, while Lukas Lacko, who I mentioned on Twitter on Sunday as a good bet at 2-1 to beat Joao Sousa in qualies, probably isn’t good enough.
But Arthur Rinderknech is interesting, with his big game likely to be quite effective on the grass.
If Tsitsipas shows up, but is struggling for energy – which is quite possible – this part of the draw could open up and at 100-1 I wouldn’t have minded having a small interest in Rinderknech as my long shot in Halle.
Unfortunately, the 100-1 lasted about 10 minutes on Bet365 and I didn’t even get chance to back it myself before it disappeared and was replaced by a quote of 50-1, which isn’t big enough.
Cinch Championships Queen’s Club
Gone, seemingly, are the days when this was the most prestigious event on grass of the year, barring Wimbledon, and this looks a good opportunity for Matteo Berrettini to take a grass title ahead of the All England Club in a few weeks’ time.
I backed Berrettini at 63-1 to win Wimbledon after Madrid and that’s not bad value given he’s now 40s generally and best-priced 50s with one or two firms.
The Italian’s biggest threat in the top half of the draw this week at Queen’s Club could be Marin Cilic, who returned to form nicely in Stuttgart and is always a danger on the grass, despite his best years seemingly being behind him now at 32.
Dan Evans can play on grass, but lacks power at this level, plus he has a tough round one against the guy we backed last week, Alexei Popyrin, who could well show what he can do this week instead.
I’m not convinced about Alex De Minaur on this surface in the form he’s been in this past year or so, but perhaps Reilly Opelka can do some damage in this top half of the draw.
It’s probably too low-bouncing here for Opelka but you couldn’t count him out with that serve of his in a quarter that all the other players apart from Cilic lack any sort of serving power.
Cilic and Opelka look the ones then in Q2, while Berrettini should fancy his chances in Q1, but the likes of Andy Murray, Adrian Mannarino, Popyrin and Evans could all put up some sort of challenge to the big-hitting Italian.
Murray is still struggling with injuries and pulled out of Nottingham last week due to an ongoing groin problem, so it seems rather unlikely that he’ll go too far this week, but you never know.
He’ll probably beat Benoit Paire in round one, but it’s guesswork as to what sort of shape and form Murray will be in after not playing competitively for three months.
The bottom half of the draw looks open, with seeds Aslan Karatsev and Jannik Sinner having played a grand total of three main level matches on grass between them.
Indeed, in all matches on grass the pair are 3-7 win/loss and Karatsev hasn’t played on it since 2015, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Russian and the Italian take to the grass this week.
Both are in Q3 and given their lack of experience on the green stuff I’m happy to take them on, with the winner of the clash between Alexander Bublik and Jeremy Chardy having chances to go on a run this week.
Chardy let us down last week, which probably means he’ll go well this week, which is annoying because I quite fancy Bublik in conditions which should suit if he’s in the mood.
Bublik’s probably a bit short in price though at 20-1 given how unreliable he is.
Cam Norrie is 6-15 win/loss at all levels on grass and needs more time on the ball than grass allows, as does round one opponent Albert Ramos (6-13 win/loss on grass) so I’m counting those two out.
The one I’ll take a chance on in the bottom half of the draw is Lorenzo Sonego, who’s gone well on grass before and he comes in here on the back of a good clay swing that saw him win in Cagliari and make the semis in Rome.
Sonego won on the grass in Antalya during the last grass swing in 2019 and his draw looks nice against the fading Viktor Troicki and then the winner of Frances Tiafoe and Aljaz Bedene.
If he gets through that – and he should – he may face Denis Shapovalov, but I’m still to be convinced about Shapo on grass and Sonego has a decent record against lefties, winning 11 of his last 15.
Former champ Feli Lopez looks a step slower now than when he last won here, so he’s overlooked and 20-1 Sonego looks fair value, but it’s his Italian compatriot Berrettini that stands the best chance of winning Queen’s Club this year.
It pains me to side with favourites any week of the year, but I like the chances of Medvedev and Berrettini to deliver and a double on the pair pays a shade over 30-1 with Bet365.
If another layer prices Rinderknech up at 100s (or bigger) that’s a bet for half a point each-way, but not shorter than that, and so my only big-priced interest this week at the moment will be Sonego at 20-1.
1 point double Medvedev/Berrettini at 30-1 (Bet 365)
0.5 points each-way Sonego at 20-1 (Hills)
0.5 points each-way Rinderknech in Halle at 100-1 (if available)