First Ball In, 6/11: Halle Home Style
German tennis gained a backyard boost on the grass of Halle today.
German No. 2 Philipp Kohlschreiber, the 2011 Halle champion, advanced to the the Gerry Weber Open quarterfinals for the ninth time in 10 appearances. While Kohlschreiber's straight-sets win over qualifier Pierre-Hugues Herbert was expected, compatriot Peter Gojowczyk pulled off the unexpected.
The 120th-ranked German wild card took the court with exactly one grass-court career win, but played like a lawn doctor in a 6-4, 6-4 dissection of No. 3 seed Milos Raonic. An aggressive baseliner, Gojowczyk won 81 percent of his first-serve points and did not drop serve in the 72-minute victory.
Facing one of the game's most explosive servers on grass can feel as futile as hitchhiking on the Autobahn. But Gojowczyk, a snowboarder in his spare time, likes the rush of speed and feels pace feeds his return.
"I just love it when somebody serves hard and fast because it serves my return, which actually is my best shot," said Gojowczyk. "[I was] a bit nervous at the beginning because I wasn’t sure whether I will be able to see his serve, but I read it very well."
Gojowczyk, who trains in Munich, made his breakthrough as a 162nd-ranked qualifier in Doha last January. He defeated Dominic Thiem, Kohlschreiber and Dustin Brown in succession to reach the semifinals where he took a set off world No. 1 Rafael Nadal before losing.
Nadal opens against Brown on Wednesday in his first match since capturing his record-extending ninth Roland Garros title. He is playing for his 700th career win and should he prevail he'll advance to a quarterfinal against Kohlschreiber, who beat Nadal in the 2012 Halle quarters—the German's lone win in their 12 meetings.
The 27th-ranked Kohlschreiber is most inspired on home soil. He won his fifth career title in Dusseldorf last month, which was his fourth championship on German soil. None of today's singles matches exceeded 90 minutes; Kohlschreiber says grass puts a premium on the first strike—and coming off a 12-10 in the fifth-set French Open loss to Andy Murray, he probably appreciates the brevity.
"On grass it goes quickly if it’s best of three," he said. "The rallies are short and I think I dominated them today, I was the aggressive player and made him run, dictated the points."
Long Distance Runaround
During her retirement from tennis, Kimiko Date-Krumm spent some time pounding the pavement: She ran the 2004 London Marathon in three hours, 30 minutes. The 43-year-old Date-Krumm has shown a finishing kick going the distance on all surfaces this year. The ageless Japanese edged No. 12 seed Monica Puig, 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7) to reach the round of 16 in Birmingham today and continue a trend. Fourteen of Date-Krumm's 24 matches this season have spanned three sets. She plays No. 7 seed Daniela Hantuchova next.
The 1996 Wimbledon semifinalist hits old-school flat strokes built from brief back swings that play well on grass. While Date-Krumm cites the essential ingredients for her longevity — she's extremely fit, adheres to a healthy diet and says she tries to sleep nine hours a night during tournaments — she suggests it's her mind that helps keep her a step ahead against opponents two decades younger.
"Tennis is not only power, not only speed, not only for young players," she said at Wimbledon last year. "Tennis, we need more mental [strength] also. We need experience. That's why it's not anymore only younger players can go to the top level I think."
Marcos Baghdatis experienced the joy of early entry and pain of premature exit in London today. The 118th-ranked Cypriot started the day with a Wimbledon wild card and ended it with a Queen's Club retirement.
Baghdatis, fresh off winning the Nottingham Challenger title on grass last week after going winless during the clay-court spring season, appeared to hurt his shoulder hitting a return in the fourth game against Stan Wawrinka. Baghdatis asked chair umpire James Keothavong to summon the trainer. On the ensuing changeover, he spoke to the trainer, but took no treatment.
Serving at 2-3 Baghdatis hit one serve and immediately pulled the plug, packing up his Pacific racquets, waving to the crowd and departing after 17 minutes of play due to the shoulder strain, but later told ATPWorldTour.com, "it's nothing serious."
“I had a small pinch on the shoulder. I went to the physios. They said my whole back was a bit stiff, the muscles are really tired," Baghdatis said. “It's nothing serious. But we need two to three days to work on that and loosen everything up around that spot. It's a pity but that's the way it is. I played six matches in a seven days, I'm not used to that in the past year. Everything's positive. I'm feeling good. It's just a small thing I need to take care of."
Wawrinka eturned to court partnering Grigor Dimitrov in a 7-6, 7-5 doubles loss to No. 3 seeds Daniel Nestor and Nenad Zimonjic.
Francesca Schiavone finds ways to entertain even when banged up. The animated Italian, who took treatment for a creaky ankle in her 6-2, 6-4 loss to Sloane Stephens in Birmingham today, returned attacking.
Schiavone was serving at 3-all in the second set when she hit a between-the-legs shot, followed it forward to chase down a Stephens drop shot and responded with a forehand winner that smacked off the tape and dribbled over. Check it out 26 seconds into the video here:
The shot is reminiscent of this Schiavone tweener from the 2010 U.S. Open:
(3) Sloane Stephens vs. (15) Alison Riske: The flat-hitting Riske loves grass: She qualified for Birmingham last June and beat Sabine Lisicki en route to the semifinals. Riske has won successive main-draw matches for the first time since the Australian Open in reaching the round of 16. Stephens, a 2013 Wimbledon quarterfinalist, moved well, dictated with her forehand and did not drop serve beating Schiavone today.
(16) Casey Dellacqua vs. (2) Samantha Stosur: Aussie Fed Cup teammates face off for their first grass-court meeting in 12 years. Their only prior grass clash came in a Warrnambool, Australia (a prime spot for whale watching), with the left-handed Dellacqua prevailing, 6-1, 5-7, 7-5. Surprisingly, this is their first meeting in 11 years and the 43rd-ranked Dellacqua will want to use her lefty spin to torment Stosur's weaker backhand wing, though that shot held up solidly today in the 2011 U.S. Open champion's win over Christina McHale.
(2) Roger Federer vs. Joao Sousa: A grass-court master vs. lawn novice. Defending Halle champion champion Federer, who holds a tournament-record six titles, is 122-18 with 13 titles on grass—and has won at least one title on grass in nine of the last 11 years. The 47th-ranked Sousa snapped an eight-match losing streak and earned his first career grass-court win beating Jan-Lennard Struff in round one.
(1) Rafael Nadal vs. (WC) Dustin Brown: The world No. 1 can join the 700 Club with a victory here. Nadal's .794 career winning percentage on grass is second only to his .930 winning percentage on clay. Brown, whose affinity for the drop shot rivals former Drop Shot Dragon Albert Portas, is one of three German wild cards in the draw. Both of Nadal's losses in Halle have come to Germans, he lost to Alexander Waske in his 2005 Halle debut and in the 2012 quarterfinals to Philipp Kohlschreiber.
(1) Stan Wawrinka vs. Sam Querrey: The 78th-ranked Querrey has suffered some brutal losses this year — a five-set collapse to James Ward in Davis Cup; a 7-6 in the third-set loss to Alex Bogomolov, Jr, in Memphis — and is desperate to rebound into relevancy. The 2010 Queen's Club champion has tested Wawrinka in the past and can be dangerous if he's landing his first serve. Wawrinka, who has won three of their four prior meetings, should be eager after a dismal opening-round exit in Paris.
(3) Andy Murray vs. (15) Radek Stepanek: The Davis Cup lion can still summon the occasional singles roar: Stepanek took a set from Roger Federer in Dubai earlier this year and knocked off No. 16 seed Mikhail Youzhny at the French Open. The 2013 U.S. Open doubles champion is a fine volleyer, but Murray is sharp on the pass, is one of the best grass-court movers in the game and rides a 19-match grass-court win streak.