After Benjamin Becker‘s solid start on home soil on a rainy Monday, the home crowd favorites continued to impress on Centre Court in Halle with Florian Mayer, Alexander Zverev and Dustin Brown winning their opening round matches at the Gerry Weber Open on Tuesday — even Philipp Kohlschreiber was in good spirits, despite arriving shortly after losing a rained out finals against Dominic Thiem in Stuttgart.
Since the inception of the three-week grass court preparation swing in 2015, Germany has its own little fortnight of lawn tennis as well — consisting of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart as well as the Gerry Weber Open in Halle (Westfalen) this week.
While the weather has been the very opposite of cooperative in the past couple of days — nay, weeks — it certainly hasn’t put a dent on the performances of the Germans on home soil, with Kohlschreiber making the final in Stuttgart and Mayer slowly rolling back the years, coming through qualifying to reach the quarterfinals at the Mercedes Cup last week, losing in two tiebreaks to Roger Federer.
In Halle, the 32-year-old Mayer picked up where he left off last week, defeating returning American Brian Baker in straight sets, 7-5, 7-6(3), clearly relishing tennis’ relatively short stint on the grass.
“The feeling on the grass is always there — it’ll never go away,” the two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist laughed after his first round match.
“I think I played really well and I played someone who’s a rather uncomfortable opponent. I knew he had been injured for a long time and played very little, but also that he’s comfortable on the grass and made the round of 16 in Wimbledon. You could tell that he takes to the court and to the grass rather easily and that it’s a surface that suits him well. It was a close match but I thought I served pretty well, particularly in the important moments.”
Wunderkind Zverev, on the other hand, is playing his first grass court tournament of 2016 but managed to get past a tricky opponent in Victor Troicki on Tuesday, 6-4, 6-4; the Serb made the final in Stuttgart in 2015 and reached the semifinals at the Queen’s Club. Although the young German tends to be quite harsh on his own performances, he was pretty happy with how he started his Halle campaign — especially considering he was forced to pull out of last week’s tournament in s’Hertogenbosch with a foot issue.
“It wasn’t bad. I thought I played well particularly considering it was my first match [on grass],” Zverev said. “I didn’t produce too many errors, served rather well and returned quite well, too, which is probably the most difficult on grass. I’m just happy that I won against someone like Viktor in rather straightforward fashion — he’s a good grass court player and knows how to play on the surface. It’s a good feeling to make it into the second round.”
In the next round, Zverev will play compatriot Becker — who took out Ernests Gulbis in straight sets on the opening Monday in a battle of the qualifiers.
“I played him twice last year, once on clay and once on hard court and won both,” Zverev said. “But he’s obviously playing well here, made his way through qualies and defeated Gulbis yesterday. He’s playing really well again and it’ll be a tough match tomorrow.”
Both Kohlschreiber and Thiem only just arrived in Halle yesterday evening after completing their finals in Stuttgart on Monday morning. A little over 24 hours later, the German and the Austrian joined forced in doubles and while they held quadruple match point over Lukaz Kubot and Alexander Peya, the match slipped away from them in the second set tiebreak, 4-6, 7-6(12), 10-7.
Nonetheless, the German No. 1 was pleased with his start to the grass season after a first round exit in Paris.
“Overall it was a good week, I made the finals at a pretty strong ATP 250 tournament and played well,” Kohlschreiber said on Tuesday afternoon. “Sure, the weekend was exhausting — the semifinals took a long time with all the waiting, [and] same goes for the finals but I’m in good spirits. I always played well here in Halle and I feel as right as rain here. I want to make use of the momentum I got from Stuttgart. If I play well, I’ve got good chances of winning tomorrow’s match and I’m pretty confident.
“The loss on Monday hurt but it doesn’t change anything with regards to me wanting to play well here in Halle.”
During the final match on Centre Court, Brown made good use of his wildcard in Halle, taking out Roland Garros’ surprise package in Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-3, 7-5. The German with Jamaican roots had previously started his grass court season in Surbiton, losing to Australian Jordan Thompson in the quarterfinals.
Brown, who upset Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon last year, will next face an opponent who’s also shared his affinity for grass courts in the past.
“Marcos [Baghdatis] is a really good player, particularly on these surfaces,” Brown said, previewing his second round match.
“He likes the low bounces of the ball. I played him a couple of years ago when he returned from his injuries at Wimbledon and lost in four tight sets. We’re at a really good tournament here. There’s no one that makes you go ‘Oh, I really [want to] play against him.’ But as I said, I won quite a number of matches, feel confident and think I’ll be able to play a good match if I serve well.”