Roger Federer claimed his 98th career title and a brand new Mercedes, after defeating Milos Raonic in the final of the 2018 Mercedes Open.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Catching Up With Tennis Pulse, and the time has come to replace the slow, grueling tempo of clay-court tennis with the frenetic pace of grass. With little time to transition between surfaces, the stars of the ATP circuit continue their quest for silverware. However, it was a returning Roger Federer and in-form Richard Gasquet who kicked off the grass-court season in style.

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Mercedes Cup

An ATP 250 event, the Mercedes Cup transitioned from clay to grass in 2015. Hosted in Stuttgart, Germany, it is the first of seven grass-court tournaments held during the ATP season. Frenchman Lucas Pouille claimed the title in 2017, and returned to defend his crown at this year’s event.

However, all eyes were on a returning Roger Federer, who had taken the entire clay-court season off in order to preserve his body and prepare himself for Wimbledon. After his surprise second round loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis at the Miami Open in April, the Swiss Maestro had not participated in any tournaments. He did employ the same strategy last season and ended up winning Halle and Wimbledon, so there is some merit to this approach.

Federer defeated Canadian Milos Raonic 6-4 7-6(3) in an exciting final to win his third title of the season (Australian Open, Rotterdam). It was also his 18th title on grass, and 98th career title. The Swiss has now accumulated a 16-match winning streak on grass, dating back to victories in Halle and Wimbledon last year.

By reaching the final, Federer also ensured that he’d reclaim the World No. 1 ranking from rival Rafael Nadal. Nonetheless, the Swiss will need to successfully defend his title in Halle if he hopes to maintain that position entering Wimbledon.

Raonic has slowly been making his presence felt on the ATP circuit, after ending his 2017 season early due to injury. After reaching the quarterfinals of the Miami Open, the Canadian missed the 2018 French Open because of a knee injury. Nevertheless, he looked sharp and confident in his return at Stuttgart, holding serve the entire tournament until he was broken by Federer in the final.

“I had some chances today but couldn’t convert them. All in all it was very positive for me and I hope to keep that trend going,” Raonic said post-match. “I’m not far off from my best grass tennis. Maybe I’m lacking the confidence for the right decision still. I hit the ball well, my service is good. Maybe I need a few more matches to get the confidence to make the right decisions in a split second.”

Canadian Milos Raonic surpassed expectations and made his first final in over a year, but fell to Roger Federer in straight sets at the 2018 Stuttgart Open.

The Canadian defeated defending champion Lucas Pouille, and third seed Tomas Berdych en route to the final. Raonic now rises four spots to No. 31 in the ATP rankings and will hope to replicate last year’s quarterfinal showing at Wimbledon in July.

Nick Kyrgios displayed the talent that has made him a dangerous opponent on any surface and reached the semifinals in Stuttgart, but fell to Federer in three close sets. Denis Shapovalov kicked off his grass-court campaign with a shocking first round loss to unseeded qualifier Prajnesh Gunneswaran.

Libema Open

Hosted in s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, this ATP 250 event is held in the first week of the grass-court swing. Former champions include David Ferrer, three-time winner Nicolas Mahut (2013, 2015, 2016) and Giles Muller; who triumphed in 2017 and returned to defend his title.

Frenchman Richard Gasquet defeated compatriot Jeremy Chardy 6-3 7-6(5) in 90 minutes to win his 15th career title, and third on grass (Nottingham 2005, 2006). The Montpellier finalist secured his first trophy since his triumph at Antwerp in 2016. Facing Chardy for the third time this season, the two had split meetings at Miami and Monte Carlo.

“It is never easy playing a friend but we are used to playing a lot of French players throughout the year. Of course it is not my first time, but it is never easy,” said Gasquet. “It is great to win a title again,” said Gasquet. “It has been two years that I didn’t win. It is my 15th title, so it is unusual. It is very tough to win on the ATP World Tour. I am very happy to win here, it is a great tournament and I am very proud about winning it.”

Following this victory, the 31-year-old rises five spots to No. 25 while Chardy climbs 11 spots to No. 61. Having just won the Surbiton Trophy on the ATP Challenger Tour last week, Chardy had his nine-match winning streak snapped by his good friend.

“I am really happy with my match today. I think I played a good match from the beginning to the end but Richard was just a little bit better than me, he deserved to win,” reflected Chardy after the match.

Defending champion Gilles Muller fell to Matthew Ebden in the second round, and the Australian would go on to lose to Chardy in the semifinals. Top seed Adrian Mannarino also felt the wrath of Chardy in the second round. There was even a Bernard Tomic sighting, as the contentious Australian somehow advanced to the semifinal but fell to eventual champion Gasquet in three sets.

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Andy Murray finally makes his long-awaited return this week, as the Brit will be participating at the Queen’s Club championships in London. The five-time champion underwent hip surgery in January, and will be playing in his first tournament since last year’s Wimbledon where he lost to Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals. Murray will have to hit the ground running, as his first round opponent is Nick Kyrgios.

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Novak Djokovic, Grigor Dimitrov and even Stan Wawrinka will also feature at Queens in preparation for Wimbledon, making it a must-watch event. And with Federer, Zverev, Thiem and Nishikori competing at the Gerry Weber Open in Halle, it is safe to say that the grass-court season is in full swing. A notable absence however, is recent French Open champion, Rafael Nadal. The Spaniard was advised to withdraw from Queens by his medical team, probably the wise approach considering his activity during the clay-court season.

How will Andy Murray fare in his comeback? Can Djokovic or even Wawrinka pull off the surprise upset at Queens? Leave your thoughts and comments below and follow us on www.tennis-pulse.com.