Back in 2015, ATP tournament in Stuttgart changed the surface and the place in the calendar, moving from July and clay to June and grass, with Rafael Nadal as the first champion on the green surface. Roger Federer had joined the field in 2016, losing in the semi-final to a future winner Dominic Thiem and last year Tommy Haas stunned him in the second round after saving a match point.
Roger decided to play in Stuttgart again last week and it was a special event for him, returning to action after missing the entire clay season and stepping on the court for the first time since that second round Miami loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis. Unlike in the previous two seasons, Federer went all the way at Mercedes Cup, beating Mischa Zverev, Guido Pella, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic to list his first trophy at this event and this was his 98th ATP title overall and the 18th on grass.
Playing after such a long break, Roger needed some time to find his shots and rhythm, losing the opening set against Mischa Zverev and Nick Kyrgios but keeping his composure to emerge as a winner and set the final clash against Milos Raonic, whom he beat 6-4 7-6 in an hour and 19 minutes for his third title of the year. This was the 14th meeting between the Swiss and the Canadian, the third in a row on grass, and Roger scored his 11th win, saving both break points he faced and stealing Milos's serve once from the only opportunity he created.
It was a very close match and Raonic gave his best to repeat what he did at Wimbledon 2016 against Federer, also to win his first title since Brisbane 2016, but he fell short in the end, playing a few bad points in the second set tie break to end on the losing side.
As was expected between these two players on grass, it was a quick and fluid encounter with short points and only five rallies that reached the ninth stroke, dominated by the initial shot or the first groundstroke after it.
Nothing could separate the rivals on the second serve but Roger did more damage with his first, taking more points on both the serve and return to emerge as a deserved winner. Milos won 15 points on the return and seven of those came in the opening two games when Roger struggled to find the zone, holding after two deuces in game two and fending off two break points in game for to keep his serve unbroken, playing much better in his games in the rest of the match, with no more deuces or break chances for Milos in the rest of the match.
Raonic got broken at 15 in the third game of the match and he was on the level terms with Federer after that, serving well and losing the edge only in the tie break after a double fault and a few more errors that prevented him from sending the match into a decider.
Officially, Roger had just four aces against 14 for Milos but when we check service winners we get a much wider picture how good they served, with 27 unreturned serves for Roger and 28 for Milos. The Swiss was 17-15 in front in terms of the winners from the court, firing 11 from his forehand, and we have to go further and check the errors to find the difference between these two.
Federer made just 14 errors in total, only two from his backhand, and Milos couldn't follow that pace, spraying 24 errors in total including three double faults and 12 mistakes from the backhand wing. When we look at forced errors and double faults, they made 10 each, and it was the unforced errors where Roger forged his advantage, making just six against 14 from Milos.
Only 29 out of 127 points had reached the fifth shot and nothing could separate them, with 25 points for Milos and 24 for Roger. It all came down to those shortest exchanges up to four strokes and Federer built a healthy 54-44 advantage there, enough to carry him over the finish line.
We already said they had an almost identical number of service winners and that leads us to a conclusion that Roger played better behind his initial groundstroke after the serve, especially thanks to those 11 forehand winners he cracked.
Point by point result and the number of shots in the rallies: