We’ve reached the semi final stage of the first week of the season on grass, with places in the final at stake on Saturday in Stuttgart and Rosmalen.
And after a really disappointing display on Friday Philipp Kohlschreiber won’t be there after managing to lose to an opponent who patently didn’t care and slipped and slid all over the place.
I said yesterday that Gael Monfils can’t abide the grass and he showed it again in Stuttgart, both in his carefree manner and after match quotes, which read: “I don't like grass, but I just have to play on it. It's the only time of the year this is really a job for me. I won't like grass ever.”
Yet a seemingly out of ideas Kohlschreiber, perhaps cowed by his poor results against Monfils in the past, seem hesitant and paid the price, venting his frustrations at the umpire after Monfils took a questionable MTO.
Then a much-improved Rafa Nadal managed to step up his level several notches to defeat Bernard Tomic in three sets that were substantially better than the Marcos Baghdatis match.
I declined to back any of the trio of short-priced ones on Friday and that saved our nerves, as Goffin struggled against Illya Marchenko and both he and Marin Cilic had to come from a set down to win – Cilic in a final set breaker.
Gilles Muller also had to survive an opening set breaker, but fared better after the rain break in Rosmalen to ease past Marius Copil, while those on the set one overs in Sam Groth v Viktor Troicki would have enjoyed a nice winner there.
Rafael Nadal vs Gael Monfils
This first semi final in the Mercedes Cup is a 12:30 UK time start and it will be the 13th meeting between the Spaniard and the Frenchman of a series that Nadal, unsurprisingly, has dominated.
It will be second time in consecutive days (and probably three days) that Monfils will face an opponent whose desire will be far greater than his, although this opponent is less likely to wilt like Kohlschreiber did.
Nadal’s effort levels have been far greater on the German grass here in Stuttgart than we’ve seen in the past in Halle and he certainly wasn’t lacking in application against Tomic.
Monfils, will try and bluff his way through another round and he could well have some success at times in this match, but it’s hard to see him beating Rafa with his current attitude.
Indeed, Monfils has been so mediocre on grass that he hasn’t faced a top-10 opponent on the green stuff since 2007 when he managed the not insignificant feat of losing in straight sets to fellow grass-hater Nikolay Davydenko at Wimbledon.
Nadal is more or less the same price here as he was against Tomic and only once has he been this sort of price against Lamonf and that was in their 2009 US Open clash that Nadal won in four sets.
Monfils has beaten Nadal twice in quick conditions on outdoor hard in the early season Doha event, but now that Nadal is into this tournament and the grass is getting worn he’s less vulnerable and should be winning this.
Once Nadal has won two matches on grass he’s never been beaten by a player who I wouldn’t personally consider to be a very good grass exponent: Nick Kyrgios, Roger Federer, Nicolas Mahut, Feli Lopez, Novak Djokovic, Lleyton Hewitt and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
Rafa opened at 1.57, which I thought was generous, and he’s now a 1.42 shot, but I’m happy to take him as a ‘sure thing’ today.
Viktor Troicki vs Marin Cilic
Cilic just about did enough to beat Mischa Zverev last night, but this ninth career clash with Troicki looks another tough one for the Croatian and the set one overs looks a good bet here.
Troicki has won the last three in their career series after losing the first five, but their opening sets have been tight, with the last five going over today’s 9.5 games mark.
The pair have never met on grass, but seven of their eight matches have been on hard courts and on quicker surfaces this big serving pair seem likely to have at least one tight set and probably more.
Troicki has a 5-2 record against the big servers in my database since October 2014, with wins over Groth, Lopez, Muller, Copil and Lukas Rosol, and tight losses to John Isner and Kevin Anderson, so he won’t be unduly concerned by Cilic’s delivery today.
I would expect Cilic to kick on from that Zverev battle and he’ll probably edge this, but the 2-1 to the US Open champion at 3.80 and over 9.5 games in set one at 1.50 look the bets in what should be a close run thing.
Troicki has been broken only once so far this tournament and it does look like one for the overs, but my worry with the Serbian is his forehand tends to go off under pressure and Cilic should be able to take advantage.
Over in Rosmalen, I’ve officially added David Goffin’s name to that of Denis Istomin in terms of never touching his matches, such is his unpredictability, so the Belgian vs Muller looks one to avoid.
Twitter followers will know I’m on Nicolas Mahut at a daft price outright this week, so I’m hoping he’ll beat Robin Haase today and his grass court skills should be a little too much for Haase with any luck.
Sure thing: Back Nadal to beat Monfils at 1.42
Value bet: Back over 9.5 games in set one of Cilic/Troicki at 1.50
Long shot: Back Cilic to beat Troicki 2-1 at 3.80