The 2019 ATP Tour grass-court season begins with ATP 250 events in Stuttgart and ‘s-Hertogenbosch this week. World No. 5 Alexander Zverev headlines a packed field at the MercedesCup, which features eight Top 25 players, while #NextGenATP Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas leads the way at the Libema Open.
10 Things To Watch In Stuttgart
1) Sascha Surprise: One day after losing in the Roland Garros quarter-finals, World No. 5 Alexander Zverev accepted a wild card from the MercedesCup, which along with the Libema Open, kicks off the ATP Tour grass-court swing. Zverev is playing his 12th tournament in the past 12 weeks of the ATP Tour calendar, highlighted by championship match appearances in Geneva (d. Jarry) and Acapulco (l. to Kyrgios).
2) All Grown Up: Zverev played at the MercedesCup in its final year on clay (2014) and first year on grass (2015), but he’s missed the last three editions. Local fans will hardly recognize him. Now 22 years old, Zverev is a three-time ATP Masters 1000 champion and two-time Roland Garros quarter-finalist who beat Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic en route to the 2018 Nitto ATP Finals title.
3) Welcome to the Club: Karen Khachanov breaks into the Top 10 of the ATP Rankings today at No. 9. The 23-year-old becomes the first Russian in the Top 10 since Mikhail Youzhny during the week of 7 February 2011. Khachanov reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at Roland Garros.
4) Not Far Behind: It’s unlikely to take another eight years for a Russian player to be among the Top 10. That’s because Khachanov’s countryman and fellow 23-year-old Daniil Medvedev is ranked a career-high No. 13. Medvedev started the season 25-7, highlighted by a win over Djokovic at the Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters. However, Medvedev enters Stuttgart on a four-match losing streak.
5) Oh, Canada: Canadians Milos Raonic, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Denis Shapovalov are seeded sixth, seventh and eighth respectively in Stuttgart. Raonic did not play on clay due to a right knee injury, but the 28-year-old remains a major threat on grass. He’s reached grass-court finals at three different tournaments: 2016 London/Queen’s Club, 2016 Wimbledon and 2018 Stuttgart.
6) Phenomenal Felix: After advancing to finals in Rio de Janeiro and Lyon, the 18-year-old Auger-Aliassime surpassed Rafael Nadal as the youngest player to break into the Top 25 since Lleyton Hewitt in 1999. Auger-Aliassime will play the first grass-court match of his pro career in Stuttgart. His last match at any level on grass was the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ doubles final with Shapovalov.
7) Elusive Final: Shapovalov reached three Masters 1000 semi-finals before turning 20 on 15 April. But unlike his #NextGenATP countryman Auger-Aliassime, Shapovalov is still seeking his first appearance in an ATP Tour final. It wouldn’t come as a surprise if Shapovalov’s breakthrough were to come on grass. He ended his junior career as the 2016 Wimbledon boys’ singles champion.
8) Wild Thing: Like Zverev, Lucas Pouille was granted a MercedesCup wild card on Friday. Pouille is the only former champion in the field, saving a match point in his opener en route to the 2017 title. The 25-year-old Frenchman is 2-9 since defeating Raonic in the Australian Open quarter-finals.
9) Home-Court Advantage: Philipp Kohlschreiber, 35, is in the Stuttgart field for the seventh straight season, reaching finals on clay in 2013 and grass in 2016. For his career, Kohlschreiber is 125-66 with five ATP Tour titles in Germany (.654) and 339-293 with three titles elsewhere (.536).
10) Missing Title: The winningest doubles team of all-time is seeking a maiden MercedesCup title. Bob and Mike Bryan have captured a record 118 doubles titles across 35 different tournaments. But they lost semi-finals in their only previous appearances at the MercedesCup in 2016 and 2017.
10 Things To Watch In ‘s-Hertogenbosch
1) Next Gen Presence: No. 1 seed and World No. 6 Stefanos Tsitsipas leads seven #NextGenATP players from seven different countries in the field at the Libema Open, which along with the MercedesCup, kicks off the ATP Tour grass-court swing. The 20-year-old Tsitsipas and 12-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal are tied for the most wins on Tour this season with 32.
2) One Year Later: Tsitsipas was ranked a career-high No. 37 when he reached the quarter-finals in his Libema Open debut last year. He’s achieved a career-high ranking 10 more times since then. Tsitsipas is seeking the first grass-court championship of his surging career, highlighted by three ATP 250 titles, two Masters 1000 finals and a run to the 2019 Australian Open semi-finals.
Tsitsipas, De Minaur Lead #NextGenATP Charge On Grass
3) No. 1 Aussie: Like Tsitsipas, #NextGenATP player Alex de Minaur has shot up the ATP Rankings in the past 18 months. The 20-year-old Aussie has achieved a career-high 23 times since the start of 2018, peaking at his current position of No. 24. De Minaur is the No. 3 seed in ’s-Hertogenbosch.
4) Firsts for Foe: After winning his maiden ATP Tour title at Delray Beach in 2018, Frances Tiafoe has broken new ground this season. He reached his first Grand Slam quarter-final at the Australian Open on his 21st birthday and his maiden Masters 1000 quarter-final in Miami two months later.
5) Rest of the Next: Joining Tsitsipas, de Minaur and Tiafoe in the Libema Open draw are 17-year-old Jannik Sinner and 20-year-old talents Ugo Humbert, Jurij Rodionov and Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. Humbert (Marseille) and Davidovich Fokina (Estoril) have already reached semi-finals on the ATP Tour this season.
6) Coric’s Year: Borna Coric is the No. 2 seed after taking a wild card. The Croatian has been ranked between No. 12 and No. 15 all season and is aiming to reach his first final of the year. In 2018, Coric lifted the NOVENTI OPEN title and reached his first Masters 1000 final in Shanghai (l. to Djokovic).
7) Garin on Grass: All 20 of Cristian Garin’s wins in 2019, and 28 of his 30 career wins, have come on clay. Though the No. 7 seed seeks his first tour-level grass-court victory, he’s had some success on the surface. Garin earned three victories to qualify for Wimbledon in each of the past two years.
8) Dutch Hopes: Robin Haase is playing in the Libema Open main draw for the 12th time in 14 years. He’s joined this week by Dutch wild card Thiemo de Bakker, a former World No. 40 who has spent much of 2019 on the ATP Challenger Tour. It’s been 10 years since a Dutchman reached the ’s-Hertogenbosch final (Raemon Sluiter) and 16 since a home player captured the title (Sjeng Schalken).
9) Former Finalists: Reigning champion Richard Gasquet, 2018 runner-up Jeremy Chardy and 2015 finalist David Goffin return to the Libema Open. Since defeating Chardy in an All-French final last year, Gasquet has struggled with left hip, right wrist and groin injuries. He underwent groin surgery in January and did not make his season debut until the Mutua Madrid Open last month.
10) From Paris with Love: Chardy arrives in ’s-Hertogenbosch after reaching his first Grand Slam doubles final. Alongside fellow 32-year-old Frenchman Fabrice Martin, Chardy reached the Roland Garros men’s doubles championship match (l. to Krawietz/Mies). Chardy and Martin are unseeded in the Libema Open doubles draw, which is led by No. 1 seeds and 2017 champions Lukasz Kubot and Marcelo Melo.