As a tennis fan, you might feel like something of a slacker today. While you’re trying to adjust to a world where an 18-year-old can upset Serena Williams, and Andy Murray can knock off Novak Djokovic again, the players have already taken up residence at the Marriott in Mason, Ohio, where the Western & Southern Open has been underway for two days now. Before they get much further into the men’s draw there, here’s a look at how the names have been shuffled this week, and who might finish it with a trophy in his hand.
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Reshuffling the Deck
Breaking down the men's draw at the Western & Southern Open.
Published Aug 17, 2015
Coming as it does so hard on the heels of the Canadian events, Cincy is a difficult tournament to predict. Will the player who did well last week bring his momentum across the border, of will he be too gassed to keep it going? The double has been done on the men’s side, most recently by Rafael Nadal in 2013, but it’s not the norm; last year Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won in Toronto, and then, forced to play right away because his seeding was too low to earn him a bye in Cincy, went out in straight sets to Mikhail Youzhny in the first round.
There has been one constant over the years, and it’s a surprising one: Djokovic has never won the Western & Southern Open. He’s a three-time champion in Canada, and a four-time runner-up in Cincinnati.
This year Djokovic will come to the event after a final-round loss to Murray. That was a surprising defeat, but it was certainly an improvement over his flat form of last summer. This year Djokovic will start against either Gilles Muller or Benoit Paire, and is slated to play No. 5 seed Stan Wawrinka in the quarters. Perhaps Djokovic’s loss in Montreal will leave him just a little hungrier for his first win in Cincy.
First-round all-teen match to watch: Borna Coric vs. Alexander Zverev
Already out: Dominic Thiem, to Martin Klizan. The starts and stops continue for the young Austrian; his two titles on European clay-courts have been followed by two first-round exits on North American hard courts.
Last week I wrote that Kei Nishikori would be lucky to make it to the U.S. Open without another injury. No such luck: He seems to have hurt his hip in Montreal, and for the second straight year has pulled out of Cincy.
That leaves Tomas Berdych and John Isner as the two highest seeds in what’s now a much more open section than it was two days ago. Alexandr Dolgopolov has replaced Nishikori, and Gael Monfils is the top seed on that side.
U.S. wild card to watch: Jared Donaldson, who faces Nicolas Mahut
First-round matches to watch, if you’re tastes run that way:
—John Isner vs. Sam Querrey
—Gael Monfils vs. Jerzy Janowicz
How will Murray respond after recording the most important win of his season? The two previous times he won in Canada, in 2009 and 2010, he reached the semis and the quarters in Cincy, respectively. But that feels like ancient history now. This season Murray has been nothing if not steady; he’s 53-8 on the year, and has lost before the semifinals just four times in 13 events. This week he’ll start against sentimental favorite Mardy Fish.
Also here: Marin Cilic, who has one more chance to round into shape before defending his U.S. Open crown. His progress was jolted off the rails last week by the unlikely figure of Bernard Tomic.
First-round matches to watch:
—Nick Kyrgios vs. Richard Gasquet. They’ve played a pair of good ones at Wimbledon the last two years.
—Fabio Fognini vs. Thanasi Kokkinakis
Possible second-round matches to watch:
Kyrgios vs. Kokkinakis, or Kyrgios vs. Fognini
Has Djokovic ever asked his rival Roger Federer for advice on how to win Cincy? Federer seems to win this event at will; his six titles are the most of any male player. This year Federer will come in rested but possibly rusty. The just-turned-34-year-old skipped Montreal, which means he hasn’t played since Wimbledon, more than a month ago. Federer will try to find his hard-court feet against either Roberto Bautista Agut or Pablo Cuevas. They’re both strong players, but stronger on clay than on they are on hard courts.
This year, Federer could face a more serious obstacle than normal in his quarters. Rafael Nadal is the second seed in this section; he beat a struggling Federer here two years ago, but this season their fortunes have largely been reversed. Now it’s Rafa, instead of Roger, who is fielding questions about his form and his future.
- Can Nadal, who was soundly beaten by Nishikori in Montreal, make it to a quarterfinal showdown with Federer? He starts against either Jeremy Chardy or Rajeev Ram, and then is slated to play Milos Raonic. The Canadian beat Nadal for the first time at Indian Wells in the spring, but may still be feeling the effects of leg surgery from earlier in the year.
- Can Federer, who has had a much better season than Nadal, break his five-match losing streak to Rafa? Four of those meetings have come on hard courts.
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Berdych; Federer d. Murray
Final: Djokovic d. Federer