Cincinnati ATP Preview: Olympians Kei Nishikori, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray right back at it

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Bronze medalist Kei Nishikori could meet gold-medal winner Andy Murray in the quarterfinals. (AP)

From Rio to Ohio the tours go. If that sounds like a comedown, well, pretty much anything would be after the Olympics. The Games had it all, except for one thing: ranking points. They should be reinstated in Tokyo in 2020; the sport shouldn’t be in the business of punishing its players for wanting to play for their countries. For now, the rule seems to have helped the men’s draw in Cincy; it still includes three semifinalists from Rio: Andy Murray, Kei Nishikori and Rafael Nadal.

Here’s a look at how long they, and the rest of the field, may last in the final major tune-up for the U.S. Open. (For the full draw, click here.)

*****

First Quarter

From carrying the flag to winning gold again for his country, Murray had, as he said, a “fantastic 10 days” in Rio. But after two three-setters and a four-hour final, he also had a tiring one. Will having Monday and Tuesday off be enough to rejuvenate him? Will he even want to be rejuvenated? Murray’s draw until the quarters should make him feel better. The top seed starts against either Juan Monaco or Ivo Karlovic, and he’s 11-2 combined against them for his career. The first seed Murray could face is Richard Gasquet. And the man he’s scheduled to play in the quarters, Nishikori, will be just as gassed as he is.

First-round intergenerational match to watch: 18-year-old Taylor Fritz vs. 34-year-old Mikhail Youzhny

Semifinalist: Murray

*****

Second Quarter

Four prominent players in this section, Milos Raonic, Dominic Thiem, John Isner and Alexandr Zverev, were among the missing in Rio. Can they take advantage of those who were there? 

Isner, who is unseeded after dropping out of the Top 20, will start against Fabio Fognini, who played in all three events in Rio. If he wins that, though, the American runs straight into Raonic in a battle of the big servers. 

Thiem will start against either John Millman or Malek Jaziri, and could play Rio quarterfinalist Gael Monfils after that.

And as for Zverev, he begins against Yuichi Sugita, and would play Roberto Bautista Agut, who had a good run in Rio, in the second round. 

First-round match to watch: Isner vs. Fognini

Semifinalist: Raonic

*****

Third Quarter

How much longer can Nadal last? He’s coming off 20 hours of tennis and a whiplash-inducing series of emotions in Rio—he went from the high of doubles gold to the disappointment of fourth place in the singles in the span of 48 hours. We’ll see if 48 hours off is enough time for Rafa to reset. Then we’ll see how much he wants to stress his already-stressed left wrist. Nadal will face Pablo Cuevas or Sam Querrey to start; either way, that’s not an easy opener. 

Also here: a Rio-free Tomas Berdych

First-round match to watch: Nick Kyrgios vs. Lucas Pouille

Semifinalist: Berdych

*****

Fourth Quarter

No. 2 seed Stan Wawrinka also comes to Cincy after skipping Rio. He’s been a quarterfinalist here the last two years, and he’s coming off a semifinal run in Toronto two weeks ago (if you can remember back that far). Stan’s draw also looks promising here: He’ll start against either Jared Donaldson or Nicolas Almagro, and the first seed he could face would be Feliciano Lopez.

Also worth watching is Steve Johnson, who should be inspired by his play in Rio. The American has never been better than he was in his quarterfinal loss to Murray. But after deep runs there in singles and doubles, will he be too tired to take advantage of any newfound confidence? Johnson starts against Federico Delbonis.

Also here: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer

American wild card to watch: 6’11” Reilly Opelka, who reached the semis in Atlanta. He opens against Jeremy Chardy on Monday

First-round match to watch: Gilles Simon vs. Grigor Dimitrov

Semifinalist: Wawrinka

*****

Semifinals: Raonic d. Murray; Wawrinka d. Berdych

Final: Raonic d. Wawrinka

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