The ATP World Tour returns on Monday, with three weeks of grass court tennis ahead of us before the third major of the year at Wimbledon at the end of the month.
It’s always a relief to see the back of the far too long clay court swing and get back to what I would consider to be ‘proper’ tennis on the grass and we start with two events in week 23 of the tour.
The Ricoh Open in Rosmalen is where I’ll be in a few days’ time and hopefully we’ll find a few nice winners there this week and they also play at Stuttgart, where the Mercedes Cup has the likes of Roger Federer in action.
In Rosmalen conditions are on the slow side for a grass court tournament, while Stuttgart last year was quicker and had 20 tie breaks in its 27 matches, compared to Rosmalen’s 19 from the same number of matches, so there isn’t much in it in that regard.
Round one of Rosmalen in 2015 featured three slight underdog winners from its 12 matches and so did Stuttgart, while the biggest priced winner in all matches across the two events was a measly 3.12 about Mischa Zverev beating Andreas Seppi.
It’s a quiet start to the week as far as main draw matches are concerned on Monday, with only two in Stuttgart where play has been delayed by the weather, and five in Rosmalen.
Sam Groth vs Ilya Marchenko
This 13:00 UK time (approx.) clash between two guys who serve big and like to give the ball a decent smack played on early season slick grass looks highly likely to involve a tie break or two.
Groth has had a shocker of a year after injury and has lost to all sorts in 2016, so I certainly wouldn’t be backing him as favourite in this one, but the 2.28 about over 10.5 games in set one looks decent.
The big Aussie is fresh from the Manchester Challenger on grass, where he made the last eight before losing to Denis Kudla, and he has managed only two wins in his last 14 matches against top-100 opposition such as Marchenko.
Indeed, Marchenko beat Groth 7-6, 7-6 indoors in Memphis earlier on this season, which is a good indicator of how this one is likely to go also, with Groth creating only one break point in the entire match.
Marchenko didn’t manage to take any of his four break points either and surely this one is destined for at least one tie break.
The other main draw match in Stuttgart looks horrible, with Michael Berrer having failed to win a match in the main draw on grass at tour level since 2011 and he has a 6-16 record on the surface.
He faces Malek Jaziri, who retired last week in the Furth Challenger as top seed with a neck injury, so that one looks like a stinker of a match to bet on.
Over in Rosmalen defending champion Nicolas Mahut should get off to a winning start against Lukas Lacko, but the Frenchman is a tad short for my liking at 1.38.
Sam Querrey vs Benjamin Becker
The veteran German has a fine record in Rosmalen, with 14 wins from his 18 matches and he made the final again the last time he played here in 2014.
How much he has left in the tank at the age of 35 (in 10 days time) remains to be seen, but conditions here have clearly suited him over the years and this doesn’t look to be that easy an opener for Querrey.
The American has won three of their four career meetings, but none have taken place on grass, and this one looks another candidate for a long opening set, with 10 of Querrey’s last 16 first sets on grass going to 12 games or more.
And they’ve not been against the elite of grass court tennis either, with names such as Victor Estrella, Santi Giraldo, Pablo Cuevas, Bradley Klahn, Igor Sijsling and Matt Ebden all having taken Big Sam past the 10.5 games mark in an opening set on grass of late.
Becker can certainly join that list and I wouldn’t be shocked if he even won this one, with Querrey having lost his last four matches, including at the French to Bjorn Fratangelo and Becker coming from the grass event in Manchester.
As this is the ‘long shot’ wager I have to take a big chance and go with 19-year-old American Ernesto Escobedo to either take Aljaz Bedene past the overs mark or take a set.
Bedene has only played 16 matches in his career (including juniors) on grass and just nine at this level, with only three wins, and just one in straight sets.
He faces an opponent today who had never played on grass until this week, but he’s made a fine start, beating Marco Chiudinelli and Ryan Harrison (55 matches on grass in his career) in qualies.
It would be no real surprise if he caught Bedene cold here and overs combined with set one overs in the Querrey match pays 4.20.
Value bet: Back over 10.5 games in set one of Groth/Marchenko at 2.28
Long shot: Back over 10.5 games in set one of Querrey/Becker and over 21.5 games in Bedene/Escobedo at 4.20