When Roger Federer claimed Stuttgart title and became world No. 1

In 2015, the ATP tournament in Stuttgart changed the surface and moved from July and clay to June and grass. Rafael Nadal was the first champion, and Roger Federer joined the field a year later. The Swiss lost in the semi-final to a future winner Dominic Thiem and suffered a defeat to Tommy Haas in 2017 after wasting a match point. Roger signed to play Stuttgart again in 2018, returning to action after missing the entire clay season and stepping on the court for the first time since the second-round Miami loss to Thanasi Kokkinakis. Unlike the previous two seasons, Federer went all the way at the Mercedes Cup, beating Mischa Zverev, Guido Pella, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic to lift his first trophy at this event and the 98th ATP title overall, 18th on grass. Competing 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 staying focused to emerge as a winner and arrange the final clash against Milos Raonic.

The Swiss ousted the Canadian 6-4, 7-6 in an hour and 19 minutes for his third title of the season and the 11th triumph over Milos in 14 encounters. It was a close match with a single break of serve. Raonic tried to repeat what he did at Wimbledon 2016 against Federer but fell short after playing a couple of loose shots in the second set’s tie break. As was expected between these two on grass, it was a quick and fluid encounter with short exchanges and only five rallies that reached the ninth stroke. The serve and the first groundstroke were the dominant strokes of the match. Nothing could separate the rivals on the second serve, and Roger did more damage with the first, taking more points on 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.

Roger Federer defeated Milos Raonic in the 2018 Stuttgart final.

The Swiss held after two deuces in game two and fended off two break chances at 1-2 to keep his serve unbroken, allowing no deuces or break opportunities in the rest of the clash. Raonic got broken at 15 in the third game and was on the level terms in the rest of the encounter. He served well and lost the edge only in the second set’s tie break after a double fault and a few more errors that prevented him from sending the match into a decider. Roger had just four aces in comparison to Milos’ 14, but we get a broader picture of how good they served after checking the service winners. The Swiss fired 27 unreturned serves, and the Canadian counted 28. Roger was 17-15 in front in the winners from the court, firing 11 from his forehand and sending us to the errors department to observe the difference.

Federer made 14 errors, only two from his backhand, and Milos could not follow that pace. He sprayed 24 mistakes, including three double faults and 12 from the backhand wing. When we look at forced errors and double faults, they made ten each, and it was the unforced errors where Roger forged his advantage, making six against Milos’ 14. Only 29 out of 127 points reached the fifth shot, and they were toe to toe, with 25 points for Milos and 24 for Roger. It all came down to those shortest exchanges up to four strokes, where Federer built a solid 54-44 advantage, enough to carry him over the finish line. We already said they had an almost identical number of service winners, concluding that Federer played better behind his initial groundstroke after the serve, mainly thanks to those 11 forehand winners. With these points, Roger passed Rafael Nadal and became world no. 1 for the first time that season on the following day.