Photo : @QueensTennis
Welcome to the ATP Awards of the Week. Every week from now until the National Bank Open, we will be highlighting the best and worst from the previous week on the ATP Tour.
Can you smell it? The nice, sweet scent of freshly mown grass?
It is the best time of the year to be a professional groundskeeper/grass cutter in Europe as the grass court swing is now well and truly underway on the ATP Tour.
Two of biggest Wimbledon warm-up events took place last week, the cinch Championships in London, better known as the Queen’s Club, and the Noventi Open in Halle, Germany.
These events are certainly worth paying attention to, both because grass court tennis is fun and the season is so short, but there is also a long tradition of players translation good results at these two events into success at the All-England Club.
Let us have a look at who had a good week and who did not with our ATP Awards.
Performance of the Week: Matteo Berrettini
New surface? No problem.
Many players on the ATP Tour are good on either grass or clay, with hard landing in the middle. Berrettini is one of the few who has had more success on those two surfaces than on hard courts.
The Italian won his fifth career title last week at the Queen’s Club, his second grass court title to go with three victories on clay.
He only dropped one set the entire week, that being the second set of the final against Cameron Norrie in a tiebreak, on his way to becoming the first debutant to win the Queen’s Club since Boris Becker in 1985. Becker went on to win his first Wimbledon title that same year.
Berrettini also had to do it battling not just his opponents, but the crowd too as he beat three Brits on his way to the title: Andy Murray in round two, Dan Evans in the quarter-final, and Norrie in the final.
Overall, it was a dominant week for Berrettini, who is setting himself up as one of the bigger threats at the All-England club.
Match of the Week: cinch Championships first round – John Millman d. Rielly Opelka 7-6(4), 5-7, 7-6(6)
Any match that ends 8-6 in a deciding set tiebreak is automatically an instant classic, but there was more to it in this match.
The first two sets were tight, but exciting. Set one was classic grass court tennis, with the servers dominating and not even reaching so much as a deuce.
Millman won the breaker and then seemed well on his way to victory when he broke the mighty Opelka serve early in the second. But from 1-3 down, the American rallied to win six of the next eight games to send the match to a decider.
It was then Opelka’s turn to seemingly have the match wrapped up when he broke at 4-all in the third set and served for the match, only for the Aussie to break back and push the set to a tiebreak.
Opelka had another golden opportunity with two match points at 6-4 in the breaker, including one on his serve, but failed to close out the match again. Millman rallied, winning four straight points to take the tiebreak and match 8-6.
You could not ask much a much more exciting start to the tournament.
Surprise of the Week: Jack Draper
If you had not heard of Jack Draper prior to this week, I do not blame you.
The 19-year-old from Sutton, England, had only competed in one main draw match at the ATP Tour before last week and have never completed one, having retired from that lone previous match in Miami.
He was given a wildcard to the cinch Championships this week, however, and took full advantage, scoring a major upset over third seed Jannik Sinner in two tiebreaks for his first ever win on at ATP Tour.
The world No. 309 was not done, taking out Alexander Bublik, also in two tiebreaks, to reach his first ATP Tour quarter-final.
While his run ended there at the hands of countryman Norrie in the last eight, it was a feel-good story for the home fans in London.
Unforced Error of the Week: Daniil Medvedev
The focus for Medvedev over the coming weeks will be his surprisingly realistic shot at getting to number one in the world. But if he is going to achieve it, he cannot afford to give away points.
A first-round loss in Halle, while defending semi-final points from Queen’s in 2019, was not what he was looking for.
The straight sets loss at the hands of Jan-Lennard Struff cost him 160 ranking points which may not sound like a lot, but when Novak Djokovic is not going to give you any freebies, you cannot give him any either.
It also does not bode well for Medvedev’s Wimbledon campaign if he is losing his warm-up matches.
Upset of the Week: Ugo Humbert d. Alexander Zverev – Halle R2
To cut Zverev a bit of slack, Humbert turned out to be the eventual champion, this was not the first round, and the German was coming off a quick turn-around following his semi-final run at Roland Garros.
That being said, Zverev has been playing great tennis in 2021, especially over the last few months, and is a two-time runner up in Halle. And he was playing on home soil.
The third seed was in the match from the start and looked to have righted the ship by winning the second set after dropping the first in a breaker. He had the first break chance in the deciding set but failed to convert and was subsequently broken in the next game, the only break Humbert would need to complete the upset.
Humbert rode the momentum of that victory to the Halle title, adding a second top ten win of the week over Andrey Rublev in the final.
Canadian Performance of the Week: Félix Auger-Aliassime – Halle semi-final
If there is a knock on Auger-Aliassime early in his young career, it is his performance in big matches.
While he may compounded that with a semi-final loss in Halle, earlier in the week the Canadian scored what is easily the biggest win of his career to date, beating 10-time Halle champion Roger Federer in three sets.
Auger-Aliassime put on a serving clinic in that match, only losing 12 points on his own serve.
Federer may not have been at his best in the match, he is 39 after all, but the Canadian was the better player throughout the match, despite dropping the opening set. Auger-Aliassime outhit the Swiss, he out-served him, he out-chanced him.
The 15 break points for the Montrealer against the Federer serve were the most Federer has ever faced in a best-of-three match on grass.
None of those big match nerves we have seen before from Auger-Aliassime were present. He maintained a high level throughout the match and even leaned on the gas in key moments.
When he broke early in the third set, he did not sit back and try hang on. He kept pressing Federer and was rewarded with a second break. When serving for the match, something the young gun has struggled with in even normal matches, Auger-Aliassime closed it out to love.
He may not have gone on to win the tournament, but the win over Federer was still a statement victory.
Under the Radar: The British Invasion
OK, under the radar may be the wrong way to phrase it because, especially with the British media’s propensity for over-selling the most minor of results from their players, there was something special going down at the Queen’s Club.
It is easy to forget that Britain has not been a tennis superpower in decades. Sure, they invented that game and the biggest tournament on the planet is in London, but with one notable exception, Britain has actually struggled to produce tennis stars at the same rate as the United States, Spain, Russia, and many others.
But you would never have known that this week at the cinch Championship, where the British hype was legitimate.
Three Brits reached the quarter-finals at Queen’s, with Norrie getting all the way to the final.
That does not include Andy Murray, the aforementioned exception to Britain’s inability to produce champions since the 1910s (the last decade in which more than one British man won a slam title), who still had a good week just by reaching the second round, beating Benoit Paire in straight sets in his opening match before falling to Berrettini.
In total, of the five British men in the main draw, only one failed to reach the second round.
Is this a start of a golden age of British tennis?
Probably not. But it was still cool to see so many British players doing well on home soil at one of the biggest ATP 500 events.