There’s two Masters 250 tournaments being played this week in Germany and the Netherlands, with a total of five ATP Young Guns participating. Let’s take a look at each of the Young Guns playing this week and who has the best chance for a great first impression on this year’s short-but-sweet grass season.
Kudla, currently ranked No. 56, will be participating in an ATP tour level grass tournament for the first time since 2014.
The 23-year-old American opted to play two Challengers last year prior to Wimbledon. Kudla had great success at his warmup Challengers in Great Britain last year, making the finals at Surbiton and winning his fifth Challenger title in Ilkley.
After a solid grass warmup at the Challengers in Great Britain, Kudla had his best Grand Slam performance since during pro in 2012. Ranked No. 105 at the time, Kudla made it to the fourth round, beating three Top 100 players (including Young Gun Alexander Zverev) before succumbing to Marin Cilic in four sets.
Kudla’s best Grand Slam results have come at Wimbledon. He’s made it to the second round twice and the fourth round last year. Kudla’s already showing some promise for a repeated deep run at Wimbledon in 2016. He played a Challenger in Manchester last week after a first-round exit at the French Open. Kudla made it to the semifinals before falling to veteran Yen-Hsn Lu.
Pouille is seeded eighth at the Mercedes Cup, after climbing to a career-high No. 29 on Monday.
The 22-year-old Frenchman has been one of the most surprising Young Guns in 2016 and looks to continue his solid season with his first grass tournament of the year.
In 2015, Pouille opted to play the Ricoh Open instead of the Mercedes Cup. Perhaps he’s looking to erase the painful memories of being obliterated by world No. 339 Marco Chiudlinelli — a player ranked a staggering 245 spots behind the Frenchman at the time — in the first round of qualifying.
In fact, Pouille didn’t qualify for any main-draws of the grass warm up tournaments in London and Nottingham in 2015. Although he did make the main-draw of Wimbledon, he was trounced by then-No. 14 Kevin Anderson in four sets.
I talked about Pouille’s improvements in his break out 2016 season in another article, so I hope with these noticeable tweaks to his game he finally preforms on grass, a surface that seems to elude him.
Thiem is having undoubtedly the best season of all the Young Guns, most recently making it to the semifinals of the French Open and breaking into the elusive Top 10. At a career-high ranking of No. 7, Thiem is seeded third for his second consecutive Mercedes Cup.
Clay is Thiem’s best surface, which is why its unsurprising that grass gives him difficulty. Grass courts play the complete opposite of how clay does, in terms of speed, bounce height and skid. While clay slows down the ball and provides a high ball bounce with minimal skid, grass keeps the ball skidding low and quickly.
Thiem’s heavy topspin game doesn’t translate well onto grass and it shows in his results on the tricky surface. Thiem has yet to make it past the second round of Wimbledon, which he has done at every other Grand Slam thus far.
While Pouille shied away from a repeat nightmare loss at the Ricoh Open, Thiem has come back to the same event to avenge his mind-blowing and humiliating loss to then-No. 502 Mischa Zverev (Alexander Zverev’s brother) in straight sets. At the time of this wildly unexpected loss, Thiem had been ranked 30th.
Let’s hope that Thiem’s momentum from the past six months can garner some decent grass court results for the first time in his career.
World No. 65 Fritz only played one grass court event last year at Nottingham, which was his ATP Tour tournament debut. He received a wildcard into the tournament and despite being ranked No. 761 at the time, he shocked then-No. 66 Pablo Correno Busta in straight sets.
Fritz has had large success on hard courts, winning the US Open boy’s title in 2015 as well as three Challengers. Grass court speed is closer to hard court, but the bounce is very high and predictable unlike grass. I haven’t seen much of Fritz’s game and he doesn’t seem to have much playing experience on the surface, so I’m not expecting much from him results wise.
Tomic is the second seed at the Ricoh Open, a tournament which he has not played at previously. The world No. 23 is looking to continue his strong results on grass, which have included making the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 2011 as well as the fourth round in 2013.
Tomic is having an underwhelming season so far, amassing a meh 15-13 record. Prior to the French Open, where he lost in the second round to Young Gun Borna Coric, the Australian had dropped four first-round matches in a row. He seems to be lacking the intensity and focus that brought him into the Top 20 for the first time in January after a stellar 2015 campaign.
The controversial player quite enjoys playing on grass, so much so that he contemplated skipping the clay season entirely (which he basically did with all those early exits) to focus on his grass court preparations.
In March, Tomic considered it an advantage for him to be playing on grass during Australia’s Davis Cup tie against the United States. It’s evident that Tomic feels the most comfortable on the quick surface, which is extremely compatible with his flat, penetrating ground strokes.
Hopefully Tomic’s favorite surface can revive him for the second half of 2016, since he’s looking like a zombie out on the court lately.
Overall, I see the most potential in Kudla, Thiem and Tomic for the grass season.
I’m most interested to see if Thiem will thrive under his new ranking or the pressure and hoopla surrounding it will negatively affect his game. I wouldn’t determine this by the grass season though, as most players have trouble adjusting to the surface after such a long clay court season. Thiem particularly has played a considerable amount of matches on clay (25) this year, which could potentially make adjusting to grass court even harder.
I’ll have to wait until he gets back onto the hard courts in North America to see if he has the staying power of a Tomas Berdych, or he if starts to plummet into obscurity like Grigor Dimitrov.