In 2015, the ATP tournament in Stuttgart changed the surface and place in the calendar, moving from July and clay to June and grass, with Rafael Nadal as the first champion. Roger Federer joined the field in 2016, losing in the semi-final to a future winner Dominic Thiem and suffering a defeat to Tommy Haas a year later after wasting a match point. Roger was in Stuttgart again in 2018, 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 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, scoring the 11th triumph over Milos in 14 encounters. It was a very close match with a single break of serve, and Raonic gave his best to repeat what he did at Wimbledon 2016 against Federer, falling short in the end after playing a couple of loose shots in the second set 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, dominated by the initial shot or the first groundstroke after it. Nothing could separate the rivals on the second serve, and Roger did more damage with the 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.
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 with Federer after that. He served well and lost 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 in comparison to Milos’ 14, but we get a broader picture of how good they served after checking the service winners, 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 sending us to the errors department to mark the difference.
Federer made just 14 errors in total, only two from his backhand, and Milos couldn’t follow that pace, spraying 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, leading us to conclude that Roger Federer played better behind his initial groundstroke after the serve, mainly thanks to those 11 forehand winners he cracked.