First Ball In, 8/12: Room at the Top?
You can never bet against the Big 4 for long, but there would seem to be some vulnerability at the top of the men’s game right now. No. 1 Novak Djokovic was in listless letdown mode last week in Toronto. Rafael Nadal has been sidelined with a wrist injury and will go into the U.S. Open having played just five matches, none of them on hard courts, since Roland Garros. Roger Federer looked beatable on more than one occasion in Canada. Andy Murray is ranked No. 9 and still getting used to a new coaching relationship. And while Stan Wawrinka is ranked No. 4, he hasn’t played like it of late.
Cincy will tell us where the ATP stands, and who might fill those possible gaps, as the tour braces for the final Grand Slam of the year. Will anyone look at what Jo-Wilfried Tsonga did in Canada and think, “Hey, if he can do it...”? Here’s a look at the draw, and how the week might play out.
For Djokovic, summer in North America usually goes like this: Win Canada, don’t win Cincy. The latter event is the only Masters title he doesn’t own. But maybe, after his early exit in Toronto, he’ll be better prepared to fill that hole. Plus: Boris Becker is back in his corner; after Wimbledon, is that going to be considered a good thing? We’ll see if his expertise extends beyond grass. Djokovic will meet Gilles Simon to start. He’s 7-1 against him.
Also here: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. How long will the new Jo last? He might want to pull a Marion Bartoli and retire while he’s ahead, because chances are he’ll never top what he did last week. Tsonga starts against Mikhail Youzhny, gets the winner of Santiago Giraldo and Andreas Seppi, and is scheduled to play Ferrer in the third round and Djokovic in the quarters.
Already out: Jack Sock lost to Tommy Robredo on Monday; it was so bad that by the end he was ready to hurl.
Wawrinka has been surprising us all year—the Aussie title, the win over Federer in Monte Carlo, the awful loss in the first round of the French. Now, after his early exit in Toronto, would seem to be the perfect time for another one; unfortunately, U.S. hard courts don’t seem to be his thing. He’ll start on Tuesday night against Benjamin Becker.
Wawa’s quarterfinal opponent is supposed to be Grigor Dimitrov, semifinalist in Canada. But Dimitrov has a tricky opener in the form of Jerzy Janowicz—the Pole is down to No. 65 in the rankings, but remains dangerous. The two have never played.
First-round match to watch: Feliciano Lopez vs. Marin Cilic
Tomas Berdych, struggling of late, may want to step it back up this week—he’s defending semifinal points in Cincy. His draw looks manageable; the Birdman starts with Rendy Lu and might play Fabio Fognini in the third round.
Milos Raonic is the top seed on the other side here. He didn’t play his best, even when he won, in front of his home fans in Canada, but he may have been a little fried after his D.C. title the previous week. Will we get the Raonic of Wimbledon, the one who is slowly making progress? Or is he destined always to be the hit-and-miss Raonic of Toronto? He’ll start against either Dominic Thiem or wild card Robby Ginepri.
Also here: Ernests Gulbis. Should we really be surprised that he hasn’t shown the same drive and desire since his French Open run? He starts against Ivan Dodig, who will make him work. Ernie is 0-4 against his scheduled third-round opponent, Raonic.
As tough as Cincy has been on Novak Djokovic, that’s how good it’s been to Roger Federer. He’s won the title here five times. What about this year? The 33-year-old played a lot of tennis last week in Toronto. He’ll get back on the court, likely on Wednesday, against either Vasek Pospisil or Radek Stepanek—neither is a pushover.
Andy Murray also has good memories here; he’s won the title twice, in 2008 and 2011. But he hasn’t done much in Cincy since, as his focus shifted to the U.S. Open. He says he needs match play more than anything else, and he seems frustrated with his progress this season. He'll start against Joao Sousa, but a tougher match might come in the next round, where he's scheduled to face defending finalist John Isner.
The American, who is coming off two first-round losses in his favorite part of the season, could also use some matches, and more specifically, some wins. He looked good in getting one on Monday night over Kevin Anderson.
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Cilic; Isner d. Raonic