switching gears

AROUND THE CORNER: ROGER FEDERER GOES HALLE WHILE ANDY MURRAY PLAYS LONDON

Less than twenty-four hours after Rafael Nadal’s impressive French Open victory and the ATP Tour is switching gears from the red clay of Roland Garros to the green grass of Halle and London. The short grass-court season is now upon us and over the next month we will witness a very different and exciting brand of tennis. Let’s take a closer look at what’s around the corner at the first two tune-up events for Wimbledon.

Gerry Weber Open – Halle, Germany

Halle will crown a new champion this year as veteran German player Tommy Haas is out with injury issues. In 2009 he defeated Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-1 for the title in his home country.

Roger Federer will be the number-one seed this year although he officially loses his number-one ranking on Tour on Monday as Nadal has surpassed him once again. Federer has won Halle five times before, from 2003-2006 and more recently in 2008. His first round opponent will be Jarkko Nieminen from Finland. The unfortunate Nieminen holds a 0-10 record against Federer and has never before taken a set off of him.

Interestingly enough, Federer signed a lifetime deal with the tournament on Sunday agreeing to participate in the event for as long as he is still playing professional tennis.

Federer could face the tricky Radek Stepanek in the quarter-finals and then either Juan Carlos Ferrero or Marcos Baghdatis in the semis. Both of those players have had success on grass, with Ferrero twice making the quarter-finals of Wimbledon while Baghdatis made the semi-finals in 2006.

In the bottom half of the draw Lleyton Hewitt is the 8th seed and opens against fellow Aussie Peter Luczak. Seeded second is Nikolay Davydenko who will be making his first appearance on the Tour since a wrist injury in mid-March.

One first round match worth noting is veteran Nicolas Kiefer against Russian Mikhail Youzhny. Kiefer is still struggling to find his game after injuries kept him from playing most of 2009.

AEGON Championships – London, England (aka Queen’s Club)

Four time champion Andy Roddick brings a 29-4 career record into Queen’s Club this year. Who can forget just how close the American came to finally capturing Wimbledon a year ago, where he fell 16-14 in the fifth set to Roger Federer. Roddick has not played much tennis in the past two months, but will be looking to regain his form on his favourite surface.

As of right now, Rafael Nadal is seeded first in the tournament. He does have a first-round bye so hopefully that will give him enough of a rest after winning Roland Garros. Nadal won this event in 2008 – the year he won his first and only Wimbledon title. Nadal opens by playing the winner of Marcos Daniel vs. Blaz Kavcic – a nice way to open his grass-court season wouldn’t you say? Nadal has the most favourable quarter of the tournament with the highest seed he could face being Feliciano Lopez who is the number-eight.

Andy Murray is the defending champion as he won in 2009 against James Blake 7-5, 6-4. Murray could meet up with Marin Cilic in the quarters. The pressure to win his first Grand Slam is growing and Murray will be looking to gain some momentum heading towards the grass at Wimbledon.

In the bottom half we have potential quarter-finals of Novak Djokovic against Sam Querrey. It will be interesting to see how Djokovic responds after blowing a two set lead over Jurgen Melzer at the French. Since winning his first and only Slam in Australia in 2008, Djokovic has consistently disappointed in the majors.

The last quarter offers us a potential Andy Roddick versus Richard Gasquet meeting – a rematch of their epic five-set Wimbledon battle from 2007 where the American was up by two sets before falling 8-6 in the fifth.

For any Canadian tennis fans, Frank Dancevic makes his first tournament appearance of 2010 after missing many months recovering from back surgery. After winning three matches in the qualies he advances to face Dustin Brown of Jamaica in the opening round. Dancevic is an able grass-court player and made the finals of Eastbourne last year where he fell to Dmitry Tursunov.

Don’t expect many surprises in either of these two tournaments as the big-names will be setting the tone for the month-long grass court season. I expect Federer to win his first non-Slam tournament of the year in Halle while I feel Andy Murray is due to put up some serious results in front of his home fans in London.