In a clash that pits the defending champion against a first-time semifinalist, Leonardo Mayer of Argentina takes on Slovakia’s Jozef Kovalik for a place in the Hamburg final. Mayer has thus far endured a season of mixed results, with a record for the year of 18 wins against 17 losses. For Kovalik, who has never broken into the top 100, this has been one of the best runs of his career so far, but he will have ambitions of going even further. Who will come out on top?
Mayer and Kovalik have never met competitively before, but it is the Argentinian who has the advantage in terms of experience, particularly in Hamburg. He is aiming to reach his fifth Tour-level final, having won two of the previous four. Both of those titles were won in Hamburg, where he has played the best tennis of his career, in 2014 and last year when he defeated Florian Mayer in the final. Kovalik has never made a Tour-level final before.
Path to the semifinals
Mayer opened his Hamburg campaign against 2017 Monte Carlo finalist Albert Ramos Vinolas. The Spaniard, however, is enduring a difficult year and put up little resistance as Mayer won through 6-3 6-2. He then overcame the talented but inconsistent Gael Monfils, with the former world #6 unable to recover from a slow start in a 1-6 5-7 loss. Mayer then battled past his compatriot Diego Schwartzman, the second seed, winning 6-3 4-6 6-3 to return to the last four.
Kovalik’s tournament began in the qualifying where he crushed Germany’s Niklas Guttau before finishing strongly to defeat Thiago Monteiro of Brazil 6-3 3-6 6-0. He then beat fourth seed Damir Dzumhur in the first round 6-4 6-2 before ousting Rudolf Molleker, the 17-year-old who had upset David Ferrer in the first round, 6-4 6-0. That set up a rematch with Monteiro, who had gained entry as a lucky loser, but was again denied by Kovalik, with the Slovakian winning 6-3 3-6 6-2.
How do they match up?
Mayer will likely look to control this match from the baseline with his power off the ground. His forehand is particularly effective on clay, with the Argentine equally comfortable hitting the ball hard and flat and putting more spin on the ball. His single-handed backhand can be a weakness that opponents can expose, however, with the Argentine not as comfortable standing up to pressure on that wing as many of his colleagues on the Tour.
Kovalik doesn’t have the out and out power of Mayer off the ground, although his forehand is a useful weapon, but he is an excellent mover, especially on a clay court, and is able to move opponents around with accurate and consistent hitting from the baseline. He has also shown impressive feel this week, and caught Monteiro out more than once in the quarterfinals with well-timed dropshot and lob combinations. Mayer, not the most mobile, will need to be wary of that.
Kovalik has done superbly well to reach his first ATP 500 semifinal after coming through the qualifying. It is a run that could do much for his future prospects and could well take him into the top 100 for the first time. But against the power of Mayer, who has played so well in Hamburg throughout his career, he will not have the answers required. Expect the Argentine to hit through Kovalik’s defences with sufficient regularity to come out the victor in three.