Taking to the court for the first time since March, Roger Federer begins his grass court campaign in Stuttgart against Mischa Zverev. Federer will be looking to get off to a good start aware that the #1 ranking is on the line in Germany. If he can reach the final then he will reclaim it from recent Roland Garros champion. But the wily, serve-and-volleying Zverev is no easy opponent for your first grass court match of the season. Who will come out on top?
Federer and Zverev have met five times so far in their careers, a rivalry that has included three matches on grass. Their first match, however, came on the clay in Rome in the quarterfinals in 2009 with Federer winning 7-6 6-3. Their second meeting, which came four years later in Halle saw Federer record the rare feat of beating an opponent 6-0 6-0, which was a first and so far last double bagel for the most decorated man in tennis.
Last year the pair faced off three times, beginning in Australia in the quarterfinals. Zverev came into that match fresh from upsetting then-world #1 Andy Murray, but was dispatched fairly comfortably by Federer in straight sets 6-1 7-5 6-2. Federer then beat the German again in straight sets 7-6 6-4 in Halle, a far closer contest than their last at the Gerry Weber Open. In their most recent meeting Federer beat Zverev 7-6 6-4 6-4 at Wimbledon.
Path to the second round
This is a first match for Federer since the Swiss competed on the hard courts of North America in Indian Wells and Miami. Unlike last year when Federer pulled off a clean sweep of the Sunshine Double, there was to be frustration on both coasts for the great man. In the final he was defeated in a thriller by Juan Martin del Potro, despite serving for it and holding match points. He was then upset by Thanasi Kokkinakis 6-3 3-6 6-7.
Mischa Zverev doubtless arrived in Germany eager to make the switch to grass after a difficult start to the season. The 30-year-old has struggled for match wins all season and brought a record of just 9 wins from 25 matches into the grass court season. But Zverev showed some promising form to reach the third round in Paris and he brought his wins tally into double figures by defeating one-time world #7 and Wimbledon quarterfinalist Mikhail Youzhny 7-6 6-3 in the first round.
How do they match up?
There won’t be too many long rallies in what should provide a fairly classic grass court match up. Federer will need to find his sharpness quickly in this match when faced with the net-rushing style of Zverev. The German is not as good a volleyer as the likes of Sampras and Henman who Federer faced early in his career, but he covers the net well and gets there quickly. But, Federer’s passing shots are excellent, and when he is feeling it, he can be a nightmare for a serve-and-volleyer as he showed in 2013.
Federer was caught cold last year by Tommy Haas in Stuttgart. But there is rather more on the line this week with the possibility of reclaiming the #1 ranking surely enough to ensure Federer is focused from the get go. He should have too much for Zverev who has never really troubled Federer in the past. A repeat of his 2013 hammering is unlikely, for Zverev is a hard man indeed to break on the grass. But expect Federer to get it done in straight sets.