Federer Returns, Murray Defends and Who Can Surprise Us on Grass?

If the first three months of the season belonged to Roger Federer and the last three belonged to Rafael Nadal, who will hold sway over the three-week stretch on grass that takes us to Wimbledon? We are about to find out! 

Here are the storylines we’ll be keeping an eye on during the next three weeks of grass-court tennis…

Roger Returns!

With a career record of 152-23 on grass to go with a record 15 titles, Roger Federer is widely recognized as the best grass-court player that tennis has ever seen. After a two-month hiatus the 35-year-old will surely be eager to hit the ground running on his favorite surface, and he’ll have the chance to do just that at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart this week, where he is the top seed. Last year at Stuttgart Federer fell in the semifinals to Dominic Thiem, and the Swiss maestro went on to lose three matches in a single grass-court season for the first time since 2003. It was the first time since 2011 that Federer did not reach a final on grass and only the second time since 2003.

But this year promises to be different. Riding high from a brilliant first quarter of the season that saw the 8-time Halle and seven-time Wimbledon champion win 19 of 20 matches and claim his 18th major title, Federer is healthy once again, and therefore a good bet to get his grass results back on track. His decision to forgo the clay season in order to give himself the best shot to win Wimbledon should prove wise—Federer demonstrated in Australia that he is well-versed in the art of storming out of the gates after a long training block.

Big 4: Grass Court Records and Titles
  Grass Record (Career) Grass Titles (Career) Grass Winning % (Career) Overall Winning % (Career)
Federer 152-23 15 87 82
Murray 102-17 8 86 78
Djokovic 69-16 3 81 83
Nadal 58-17 4 77 83

This is Andy Murray’s Time to Shine

Finally there were signs of life for Andy Murray in Paris as he marched to his fourth consecutive Roland Garros semifinal and played pain and worry free for the first time in months on the terre battue. Murray ambled into Paris having lost three of his last four matches but he’ll head to Queen’s Club next week with some confidence after knocking off Juan Martin del Potro and Kei Nishikori and giving Stan Wawrinka a run for his money in the semifinals.

Murray fell in five sets to the Stanimal but by the time the dust settled in Paris it had become clear that the Scotsman is putting the pieces of his world-class game back together. The five-time and defending Queen’s Club champion will join a stacked field in London next week that features 2009 champion Rafael Nadal as well as last year’s runner-up Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and more.

Can Stan Find his Groove on Grass?

Since the beginning of 2014, Switzerland’s Stan Wawrinka has blossomed from a wildly talented yet underachieving pro that lived in the shadow of the aforementioned Federer to a big-match dynamo who owns three major titles and strikes fear into the heart of even the most accomplished ATP players. But Wawrinka’s rise comes with a caveat: He has never truly figured out the grass-court game and is barely a .500 lifetime player (27-24) on the surface.

Could the hiring of Federer’s former coach, Paul Annacone, help Wawrinka finally turn the corner on his least favorite surface? Last year the Swiss paired with Richard Krajicek for the grass season and won just one match. Annacone, the man that was in the coaching box when Federer won his seventh Wimbledon title, was a crafty slice-and-dicer on grass and he could help Wawrinka develop more nuance and tactical awareness on the surface. Wawrinka’s lone final on grass came at ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 2013 but the World No.3 reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon in 2014 and 2015.


Raonic Rising?

Was Milos Raonic’s inspired performance at Queen’s and Wimbledon last season yet another step towards glory on the surface that suits him best? There is a progression occurring for Raonic on the grass: The Canadian reached the semifinals at Queen’s and Wimbledon in 2015 before reaching the final at both events last season. It has been a career of baby steps for the current World No. 6, who will turn 27 this winter. Tucked into the window between the Big Four and Generation Next, Raonic’s window for greatness might depend on how quickly rising forces like Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem mature into the generational talents we think they might become. Raonic has added accoutrements to complement his lethal serve, and he’s one of the better net rushers in the game today, but does he have the moxie to put it all together on the grass?

All-Time Grass Title Leaders, ATP
Federer 15 152-23 86.9
Sampras 10 101-20 83.5
Connors 9 170-34 83.3
McEnroe 8 121-20 85.8
Murray 8 102-17 85.7

Three to see

To succeed on grass it takes strong serving, a nuanced attack, and a willingness to shorten points whenever possible. A great net game and a wicked backhand slice that shoots through the court are also highly recommended. Certain players come to life on the surface—think Sergiy Stakhovsky, Nicolas Mahut, Dustin Brown, Feliciano Lopez, Grigor Dimitrov—but the following three could really make a difference in 2017:

Nick Kyrgios: The Aussie has a game that is tailor made for the lawn. With a booming, pinpoint serve, feathery touch around the net, and a flat, accurate backhand, the Aussie is a threat to make a run at every event he enters.

Dominic Thiem: The Austrian is known for his clay prowess, but he opened a lot of eyes on the grass last season when he defeated Federer at the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart. He has developed a wicked slice and is serving bigger than ever this season, so he could be even better on grass in 2017.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: Always a threat to do damage on faster surfaces, Tsonga embraces the grip it and rip it mentality on grass and frequently comes out on top because of his booming serve and his ability to finish points at the net. Despite not having a title on grass, the Frenchman owns a lifetime record of 44-18 on the surface and he has won 91 percent of his lifetime service games on grass.


Watch live and on demand tennis streaming from the grass-court season on Tennis TV. All singles matches live from the Aegon Championships at the Queen’s Club and from the Gerry Weber Open in Halle!