By Mike McIntyre
With Rafael Nadal's epic 8th French Open victory this past Sunday we officially move into the short but always exciting grass court tennis season on the ATP World Tour.
Play began today in Halle, Germany at the Gerry Weber Open where Roger Federer is the number one seed, and 35 year old veteran Tommy Haas is the defending champion. Interestingly enough, the two played doubles as partners for the first time in their illustrious careers on Monday although they lost their opening round to last year's Wimbledon champs Jurgen Melzer and Philipp Petzschner 7-6(3), 6-4.
Despite losing to Haas a year ago and playing beneath his usual levels of brilliance thus far in 2013, Federer must still be considered the favorite here with his vast grass court experience which includes seven Wimbledon's.
Lookout for big-serving Canadian Milos Raonic who is in the top-half of the draw along with Fed and Haas and has the game that you would think is built for grass court success. Raonic is now being coached on a full-time basis by former world number four Ivan Ljubicic who himself won the s'hertogenbosch grass court event in the Netherlands in 2007 and might be able to help his new protege attain greater heights on the slippery surface.
In the bottom half, second seed Richard Gasquet is dangerous on any surface, and grass is no exception. He will be expected to navigate his way towards the finals barring an upset.
At the Aegon Championships at Queen's Club, Andy Murray returns to play and is the number one seed. Forced to skip the French Open with back issues, it will be interesting to see how Murray handles his return as he prepares to take his Wimbledon accomplishments one step further than he did a year ago in his loss to Federer.
Lookout for Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who is in the top-half with Murray and for Juan Martin Del Potro and Tomas Berdych in the bottom half of the draw. All are likely to go deep into the draw as they too prepare for the most prestigious Grand Slam of the year which begins in just two week's time.