After some of the big names face difficult tests to start at the Gerry Weber Open, the seeds in action had things more their own way on Wednesday.
First up on schedule was Germany Florian Mayer who took on Steve Johnson, the last American standing in the singles tournament. The 25-year-old Califonian got off to a quick start — leading 3-0 in the opener — but it was the veteran who came roaring back on home turf, taking the next six games to win the first set. Though the momentum swings were palpable, the match feature some of the best points of the week with dive volleys, drop/lob combinations and plenty of action around the net.
The second set proved to be a closer affair. The World No. 53 was down an early back, but was able to come back and level the match at 4-4. In the tiebreak, however, it was Mayer who remained clutch in the important moments and scored another important win in his return to the tour after a long injury break.
“Quarterfinals at an ATP 500 events, and finally another 90 points, that’s super good for me.
“It’s definitely a big success.”
However, the German was also fairly critical of his own game, particularly when it came to some missed opportunities at the net.
“It was difficult; I saw his match yesterday and I had a plan out there and wanted to work his backhand a lot. I’m just angry with some of the volleys I hit. I played way too bad around the net today, because I served great, got a lot of returns back into play and moved to the front at the right moments. But my finishing at the net was pretty weak and I shouldn’t happen on this level. Luckily, I won the important points.”
In the following match, German youngster Alexander Zverev took on big serving Ivo Karlovic. The 18-year-old was able to stay with the Croat and take the first set in a tiebreak, but the No. 8 seed’s experience shone through in the subsequent two sets. Zverev blinked in two of his own service games and the tall Croat exploited those momentary lapses, barely allowing a look at a break point.
Zverev was disappointed with the loss but had an accurate assessment of what went wrong:
“When you get so few chances on his serve, you get a little nervous and you start to play worse during your own service games. I had the feeling the longer the match went on, the worse I played from the baseline. That was the feeling I had. But Ivo knows what he’s doing. He’s 36, he’s been on the tour for 18 years and has played thousands of matches like these. Of course it’s totally different for him than it is for me. But I’m fairly content with the way I played and I think that I’m able to play well in Wimbledon, too.”
Just like Zverev, Borna Coric also missed out on a surprise upset. Tomas Berdych was in cruise control, breaking the young Croat three times and struggling on serve throughout. The match lasted a little over an hour and contrary to his opening match, Berdych never looked in danger of dropping a set, let alone serve.
In the second set, he didn’t even drop a point in any of his four service games. The No. 3 seed will meet Karlovic in his quarterfinal on Friday.
In the final match of the day, Roger Federer faced Ernests Gulbis. The Latvian had a very respectable head-to-head of 2-2 against the Swiss star, but his dire form during of late had him go into the match as the underdog to say the least. The 26-year-old had chances to break Federer early, but wasn’t able to convert. The top seed exploited two sloppy games by the Latvian in convincing fashion and avoided another drawn-out affair like his opening round against Kohlschreiber.
“I was solid, served well and then at the end, when things got important, I managed to break at 5-5; that obviously gives you confidence. Break and then hold on to your own serve.”
Federer also talked some tactics approaching today’s match, particularly when it came to the loopier, less reliable Gulbis forehand.
“Well, there are two options, I think. You either massage the forehand and say, ‘Okay, come on and show me how often you can thump the forehand,’ or you hit more towards his strength and only his into his weaker wing during important moments.
“It’s a bit of a gamble. Today it was the plan to serve more into his forehand. At the end I was hitting more towards his backhand. I played to my own strength because I feel my serve into the backhand wing is generally very good and it wins me a lot of points, which is I why I switched tactics.”
Gulbis didn’t play a bad match, and his game is starting to look better again — even if he wasn’t entirely content with his serve today. His first round win over Stakhovsky alone should give him confidence, something he’s trying to rebuild after should issues stunted his first half.
“I feel like a player again! I don’t know if I’m ready to win anything big on grass. I’ve never won nothing big on grass, but it’s getting there. It’s one month of work and I feel really fit now.
“I have no more pain and I’m happy about that!”
With his Halle campaign at an end, and Wimbledon around the corner, Gulbis will spend the next 10 days in practice, maybe playing an exhibition event. The ATP event in Nottingham would have been an option, too but there is a tiny problem — he simply forgot to sign up for the event.
Tomorrow will see world No. 5 Kei Nishikori return to action for his second round match, determine the remaining four quarterfinalists and a special grass dose of Tactics Thursday on The Tennis Island.