In a matchup between arguably two of the most talented players on tour, Roger Federer and Nick Kyrgios will meet in the semifinals of the Stuttgart Open. It is a first tournament for both in some time after long layoffs. Federer has returned from his now annual clay court sabbatical while Kyrgios is finally healthy after battling an elbow injury for the past three months. With both players eager to reignite their 2018 campaigns, who will get through to the final?
Federer and Kyrgios have met twice on the ATP Tour with the head-to-head tied at one match win apiece. Kyrgios bested Federer in their first ever matchup back in 2015 at the Masters 1000 in Madrid in a thriller in the Spanish capital, rallying from a set down to win a tightly contested match 6-7 7-6 7-6. Federer benefitted from a walkover when Kyrgios was forced to withdraw ahead of an Indian Wells quarterfinal showdown last year due to injury. Federer enacted some more meaningful revenge in Miami last year, emerging victorious 7-6 6-7 7-6 from a late-night semifinal.
Path to the semifinals
Both players have shown some rust after their absences. Last year in Stuttgart Federer was not match ready, losing to Tommy Haas in the first round and it looked like history would repeat itself as Federer dropped the first set in his opening match against Mischa Zverev. However, he avoided an early exit this time around, finding his rhythm and triumphing in three 3-6 6-4 6-4. Federer looked more comfortable in the quarterfinals, dispatching Guido Pella in straight sets 6-4 6-4 to earn his semifinal berth.
Kyrgios has struggled with his form this year and both of his matches in Stuttgart have gone the distance. After a first round bye, he survived a battle with the unseeded Maximilian Marterer 6-4 4-6 6-3 before edging out the eighth seed Feliciano Lopez 6-4 3-6 6-3 in the quarterfinals. Kyrgios has served extremely well, averaging well over 70% first serves made, and has won roughly two thirds of points behind his second, but struggled with inconsistency during rallies. He will know he must raise his game against Federer.
How do they match up?
As the previous matchups between them have indicated, there is little to separate Kyrgios and Federer. Neither player has an obvious weakness in their game, and whilst Kyrgios has a little more power, Federer has more finesse. Having met on the clay in Madrid and the slow gritty hard courts in Miami, they are yet to face each other on grass courts, where the slick surface suits both men well.
The reason for that is that both Federer and Kyrgios rely on their serves to do much of the damage to their opponents. Though they are good enough servers to find success when stepping to the line on any surface, on a grass court both will find their powerful and accurate first deliveries even more of an advantage. Federer, however, is much more adept than Kyrgios in the forecourt, and his volleying skills could prove decisive.
At this point Federer is the more polished and effective player. Chalk it up to years of experience on Tour that Kyrgios doesn’t yet have. If Kyrgios continues to develop his game and mentality, this could develop into a special rivalry pitting the new kid on the block against the most august of the old guard. But in the short term, Federer looks to be in much better shape than the Australian and should get the win he needs to take him back to the #1 ranking in straight sets.