OK, Cincinnati is well into its second day, but I will offer a snap preview of the biggest U.S. men’s summer event outside of New York City, with what we’ll call informed predictions. By the way, in case you didn’t notice, or somehow forgot, or didn’t care, I was four for four in my semifinal picks in Montreal—there is indeed a first for everything.
Twice in the past Roger Federer has played in Canada on the final Sunday and then done a de facto tank early in Cincy. It’s a rough transition playing two hot-weather Masters events on succeeding weeks and then maintaining your energy for the Open two weeks later. On those two occasions, Federer won in Canada; this time, obviously it’s different. I’m pretty sure he’ll give Cincy all he’s got, if only to get another crack at Novak Djokovic before they both head to Flushing Meadows. Chance are, Fed’s best effort will get him to that rematch. The most intriguing players in his section are Dmitry Tursunov, who took him to three sets in Toronto last summer, and Andy Murray, who beat him here last year. He’s not going to do it again
First-rounder to watch: Murray vs. Marcos Baghdatis. Lots of potential shot-making—and missing—in this one.
Semifinalist: Roger Federer
Djokovic, as I mentioned, is positioned here. His first match will be against Carlos Moya, not the easiest way to begin after a long week in Montreal. But Djokovic is a pro and he’ll do what he can to avoid a letdown. On the other side is Richard Gasquet, who plays Lleyton Hewitt next. If he gets past him, it might be Tommy Haas (who plays a returning Mario Ancic in the first round) later. Haas could certainly upset Gasquet and make a quarter with Djokovic a testy affair.
First-rounder to watch: Two Argentines, Guillermo Cañas and Juan-Martin Del Potro, will run each other the length of Ohio.
Semifinalist: Novak Djokovic
This is the Roddick-Davydenko section, a match that might just be spoiled by Tomas Berdych, who seems due for a solid hard-court result. Tonight Roddick faces the always erratic Fernando Verdasco, whose results have been a bit better of late and who has knocked Roddick off on hard courts in the past.
Semifinalist: Tomas Berdych
Last night I watched Sam Querrey sneak past Marc Gicquel in an entertaining three-setter. I guess it doesn’t matter, at least to me, whether the players are Top 5 or not, the ups and downs and ebbs and flows of a close tennis match will always be compelling. Anyway, Querrey will now likely lose to Mikhail Youzhny, who has once again been slotted near Rafael Nadal in the draw. (This is the downside, I suppose, of the small-draw Masters concept—limited spots and repeat contests.) In the other half here, we’ve got Gonzalez, Blake, Kiefer, and last year’s runner-up JC Ferrero. I guess I’ll take Ferrero into the quarters to face Nadal. Just like last year.
Semifinalist: Rafael Nadal
Incidentally, if Djokovic and Federer do play in the semis:
Federer, 6-4, 7-6
Back in Canada, a few of the top women have arrived for the other half of the Rogers Cup. No Williamses, no Sharapova, no Mauresmo, no Vaidisova, but it’s actually not a bad-looking draw (provided you already know who, say, Lucie Safarova is—and we all do here, right?). The storylines go as follows.
Justine Henin is making her U.S. summer debut. It’s late for that, but she won’t have much less preparation than most of the other Open contenders. She’s got a comfortable road to the semifinals, where she’s likely play the winner of Petrova and Schnyder.
In the second quarter, Ana Ivanovic begins her title defense and tries to keep up her momentum after winning impressively in L.A. It will be interesting to see how she reacts to the success and whether her forceful play last week was more than a fluke. She might face Dinara Safina in the quarters.
The bottom of the draw offers perhaps the most interesting—and relevant—potential quarterfinal, between Jelena Jankovic and Anna Chakvetadze (she's blogging over at WTA.com this week; not a whole lot revealed in the first entry.) Jankovic has had a second career year in a row, and Chakvetadze isn’t far behind, having had a stellar summer that’s taken her all the way to No. 6 in the world. You may be surprised to learn that Chakvetadze owns a 5-2 career record against Jankovic and has won all three of their matches on hard courts. Is she ready to make another move forward? I'm going to say yes; Jankovic didn't finish well last week against Ivanovic in L.A. and has played a ton of tennis through the year. Either way, along with Henin-Ivanovic, it should be the match of the tournament.