First Ball In, 6/9: Going Green

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The first Monday after the French Open is one of the most jarring—as well as one of the best—on the tennis calendar. Less than 24 hours after reaching a clay summit in Paris, the sport starts from the ground up again on grass. The color goes from red to green, the surface goes from dirt to turf, the points go from long and grueling to quick and clipped. Even the sound of the sport changes—shots on grass have more of a thwock to them than they do on clay.

The tours have wasted no time hustling us along; there are two ATP and one WTA event already underway. That may seem like too much, too soon for fans, but most of the players have been chomping at the bit to get going again since they lost in Paris.


Week in Preview

Aegon Championships (ATP)

$966,000; 250 ranking points
Draw is here

You can tell how much the players need their blast of grass practice before Wimbledon begins in two weeks—Queen’s Club, while just a 250, has attracted four members of the Top 10: Stan Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych, Andy Murray, and the latest to reach that elite status, Ernests Gulbis. It’s an eye-opener to see Murray, defending Queen’s and Wimbledon champ, as the No. 3 seed. 

This is an important even for all of them; Murray wasn’t the first Queen’s winner to go on to win at the Big W. Wawrinka, especially, needs work after a disastrous end to his clay season, and two full weeks of waiting. Murray will also want to make a quick transition from clay, and into a new coaching situation with Amelie Mauresmo. After Paris, he’s 105 points behind Federer for the No. 4 spot going into Wimbledon; both guys are defending champion’s points this week. Berdych is 200 points behind Murray.

Also here: Grigor Dimitrov, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Dominic Thiem, Alexandr Dolgopolov, Bernard Tomic.


Gerry Weber Open (ATP)

Halle, Germany
$966,000; 250 ranking points
Draw is here

Halle is something of a boutique event—it offers the same prize money as Queen’s, but has half the number of players (28 here compared to 56 in London). It has also ponied up significant appearance money to land its top two seeds, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.  

Nadal says he's determined to do better at Wimbledon than he has the last two years, but judging from the way he looked, physically, at the end of the French, that might not be easy. Two years ago, after winning in Paris, he lost in the quarters in Halle, the second round at Wimbledon, and was sidelined with knee pain for the rest of the season. This time he’ll start his grass campaign against Dustin Brown, and could play the man who beat him here two years ago, Philipp Kohlschreiber, after that. Traditionally, Rafa gets to the quarters of his grass tune-up before happily heading back to Mallorca.

As for Federer, he’s clinging to a slim lead over Murray at No. 4, and like Murray at Queen’s, he won in Halle last year, his only title of 2013. This is the part of the season that Federer always points to, and the time when he has always thrived—Halle has already named a street after him. He’ll start against Joao Sousa and could possibly face the latest man to enter, and drop out of, the Top 10, Kei Nishikori, later in the week.

Also here: Milos Raonic. He’s in Nadal’s half.

Already out: Jerzy Janowicz. He’s defending semifinal points at Wimbledon. Ruh-roh.


Aegon Classic (WTA)

Birmingham, England
$710,000; WTA Premier
Draw is here

This is the start of the rather brief Aegon Tour around England—the men are playing the Aegon Championships at Queen’s, the women are at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, and the two groups join up next week for the Aegon International in Eastbourne. Now someone just needs to tell me who this Aegon person is who loves tennis so much.

Ana Ivanovic, her clay run terminated early, is the top seed in Birmingham. She has work to do; not only did she lose in the third round in Paris, she watched as a woman six years her junior, Eugenie Bouchard, took her No. 12 spot in the rankings. After the WTA youth-quake in Paris, time might seem to be flying a little faster for some of the women right now. Speaking of which, 30-year-old Sam Stosur, never a grass-lover, is the second seed this week.

Also here: Alison Riske, an unlikely grass maven who qualified and made the semis here last year, won her opener over Lyudmyla Kichenok of Ukraine. Riske's reward? A second-round match against Kichenok’s twin sister, Nadiya.

Interesting first-round result: Victoria Duval d. Caroline Garcia


OOP Analysis

See Tuesday's Order of Play at Queen’s here, Halle here, and Birmingham here.

There’s one downside to the shift from France to England—with the green grass comes more rain. It postponed play on Monday at Queen’s. Below are a few highlights from tomorrow’s full schedules there and in Birmingham. It’s still early days in Halle; Nadal and Federer don’t start until Wednesday.

Grigor Dimitrov vs. James Ward: Dimitrov could also use a match or three; he went out in his opener in Paris two weeks ago. He’s had success at Queen’s in the past, and not just with screaming ball girls.

Dominic Thiem vs. David Goffin: The skinny young shotmaker of the moment, Thiem, takes on the 2012 edition. 

Daniela Hantuchova vs. Belinda Bencic: Hantuchova is the defending champion; Bencic knocked off fellow teen and 2013 Birmingham runner-up Donna Vekic in the first round.

Ana Ivanovic vs. Mona Barthel: The German has a 2-1 career record against the Serb.


On This Day: 1990

World No. 2 Monica Seles, 16 years old and 99 pounds, beat world No. 1 Steffi Graf to win her first Grand Slam title, at Roland Garros, and the first of three straight in Paris. Here are the final 15 minutes of that match. It signaled a changing of the guard that, unfortunately, abruptly changed back three years later. Yesterday, Seles, now 40, announced her engagement to billionaire Tom Golisano.

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