Who is in: Tomáš Berdych (withdrew from Montréal), Gilles Müller (withdrew from Montréal)
Who is out: Andy Murray (hip), Stan Wawrinka (knee), Novak Djokovic (elbow), Marin Čilić (abductor), Lucas Pouille (unknown), Pablo Cuevas (knee)
The Cincinnati Masters’ inaugural match was played in 1899, making it the United States’ oldest standing tennis tournament. The tournament is played on Decoturf II hard courts, after making the change from Har-Tru back in 1979.
The Decoturf II plays relatively quick, and HeavyTopspin rates it as the seventh fastest playing hard court on tour (using 2016 statistics). Over the years, players who excel on faster surfaces have the most success, including Roger Federer, who has won the title four of the past seven years (2015, 2014, 2012, 2010, 2009, 2007 and 2005). Other active players who have won the title include Andy Murray (2011, 2008), Rafa Nadal (2013), and defending champion Marin Cilic.
Interestingly enough, Novak Djokovic—despite his reign at the top of the game—has never won this tournament.
Being that the W&S Open is played in August (in Ohio), obviously heat plays a factor how the tournament plays out. Subsequently, players with better fitness tend to enjoy greater success. However, after looking at the forecast for next week, temperatures seem to be pretty manageable: in the mid 80s. Therefore, heat should not be a determining factor with regard to who wins the tournament this year.
But, with one week separating the end of the Cincinnati Masters and the years’ last Grand Slam, individual player motivation is something to keep in mind when capping this tournament. This is essentially tennis’ equivalent of a “look-ahead” game in basketball, in terms of vulnerability, as the top players might not be as focused as they would be in a typical Masters.
Similar to Montréal, most of the mainstays at the top of the rankings are absent for the Western & Southern Open. Three of the top five players are out, including two-time champion Andy Murray,** Stan Wawrinka**, and Novak Djokovic.
Nadal who is currently listed at +300 to win the tournament, is clawing to finally get back to the World No. 1 spot. However, despite the fact that he won the tournament back in 2013, the conditions hardly suit him; so I’m not expecting another title for the Spaniard this year. Federer at +150 to win the title, is the bookies’ favourite. I also expect Roger to win here for an eighth time, with virtually ideal hard court conditions for the Swiss. Keep in mind, Roger won in both 2014 and 2015 against then World No.1 Novak Djokovic—while he was virtually unbeatable in 2015.
Raonic (+1200) is the player who, in my mind, has the next best shot at taking the title. As I write this on Saturday night, a lot of Zverev’s (+900) chances at challenging Roger for a title in Cincinnati will hinge on how gruelling his final is tomorrow in Montréal. If he can somehow beat Roger, you obviously have to at least give him a look here in Cincinnati, but—even if that happens—I’m not sure the prospect of the young German making three straight finals (and two Masters finals) is a realistic one.
Outside of the players I just mentioned, as always, Nick Kyrgios has the potential to win a big tournament. What was so bizarre about his match against Zverev—where it didn’t really look like he was fully engaged—was that he still managed to have multiple chances to get himself back into that match (going 0/8 on break points). Like I mentioned in one of my previews last week, I noticed some tweets of his with the "thermometer in mouth" emoji, and as I cringe citing an emoji as grounds for betting outlook, perhaps he was battling a cold or something last week.
Anyways, Kyrgios at 25/1 is probably worth a crack if you’re cut from the real Waylon Jennings "honky tonk hero" cloth. However, if you do go that rote, be prepared to deal with both "sides" of Kyrgios: good and bad.
Adrian Mannarino comes into Cincinnati playing some of the best, most confident (can’t believe I’m saying that), tennis of his entire career. He’ll be playing Robin Haase in the first round of the W&S Open, and, unfortunately for him, Robin Haase is also on great form—highlighted by a semifinal run at a Masters in Montréal.
Just when you thought he was out, David Ferrer pulls you back in (is that Pacino or is that Pacino?). Out of nowhere, the Spaniard has been white hot over the past few weeks and continued his impressive play onto the Canadian hard courts, beating Jack Sock and Kyle Edmund, who are two more than capable hard courters. And he backed those both wins up by pushing Roger Federer to a third set, in the quarterfinal.
Also on good form, Sam****Querrey continued his fine play in Montréal, after a title win in Los Cabos, beating Jo Tsonga—who looked uninspired—and Vince Millot. Fellow American Jack Sock, on the other hand, continued on his unimpressive form of late, losing another early round matchup.
The struggling Bulgarian, Grigor Dimitrov, enters this tournament losing two of his last four matches as a -300 or bigger favourite. Evidently, it’s safe to say he’s not feeling confident about his game at the moment. Similarly, another player who seems to be out of sorts right now is Kei Nishikori. Nothing seems to be going right for him at the moment, and he doesn’t look 100%, a notion put on grand display in his utter meltdown against Monfils last week.
The top quarter of the draw includes names like Rafa Nadal(1), Jo Willy Tsonga(8), David Goffin(9), who’s been struggling since his return, Gilles Müller(16), and the unseeded but ever dangerous Nick Kyrgios. Müller sets up for a third round clash against Rafa Nadal, and if the seeds hold true, that matchup could play out a lot like their Wimbledon match did, with quick conditions in Cincinnati.
Kyrgios also has a really favourable road to the quarterfinal, getting Goffin in the first round then either Karlovic or Vesely before Tsonga. If it comes down to Kyrgios vs. Tsonga, Kyrgios clearly has the game to win that match. If Kyrgios can come through this quarter, I think he’ll be able to ride that momentum—which, in turn, should become motivation—even deeper into the tournament.
In Thiem’s(3) section, we find Kei Nishikori(5), Pablo Carreno-Busta(11), and Sam Querrey(15), along with unseeded names like David Ferrer and Daniil Medvedev. I think Thiem still lacks confidence away from clay and feel the conditions here in Cincinnati should prove too quick for him. He’ll be tested early, with a potential match against young Russian Danill Medvedev in the second round, after a first round bye. Conversely, the conditions should be perfect for Medvedev’s game, and I fancy him to have a nice tournament—and potentially come through this quarter.
Elsewhere, there is a cluster of our “on-form” players in the middle section of the draw, with Robin Haase, Adrian Mannarino, and Sam Querrey. I wouldn’t put it past any one of the three to keep their hot play up another week.
Much like Thiem, it’s the same storyline for Nishikori on the bottom half of the draw. It looks relatively wide open, though I don’t expect much from Ferrer here on the fast playing Cincinnati. Stevie Johnson is due for a run at one of his home tourneys and it’s obviously feasible that he—or Fernando Verdasco, potentially a round later—can test Nishikori. It is worth noting, however, that Johnson has struggled in the past on fast hard courts.
Sascha Zverev(4) and Milos Raonic(6) headline the next region of the draw, with the other seeded players being Roberto Bautista-Agut(12) and Big John Isner(14). Gaël Monfils is another player in the thick of this quarter, but, after his performance against RBA last week—where he struggled to move for most of the third set—you’ve got to question his fitness going forward in this tournament, especially with another duel against RBA potentially set for the second round here.
Personally, I like Raonic to come through this quarter. To make the quarterfinal, his biggest tests will come in the form of Bautista-Agut and Monfils, two players that he is 8-3 against combined in his career. And, even if Zverev (his biggest obstacle) does make the quarterfinal, a significantly fresher Milos Raonic should still prove to be too tough a task for the rising star. Mind you, Raonic beat him just last month at Wimbledon—and his style is, by nature, a difficult matchup for anyone, let alone the young Zverev.
In the bottom section of the draw, Roger Federer(2) and Grigor Dimitrov(7) are the top two seeds, who enter this tournament on vastly different forms. Tomáš Berdych(10), Jack Sock(13), Feli Lopez, and Juan Martin Del Potro round out the rest of the big name players in this quarter.
The winner of Berdych and Del Potro’s first round matchup should be telling, with regard to how this section of the draw plays out. Del Potro’s been handed pretty murderous draws over the past few weeks, but I’m keen on the Argentine to finally be able to overcome an early hurder in Berdych this week.
Feli Lopez has Chung before Dimitrov, and I like him to avenge his loss last week against Chung, here. The conditions should suit Lopez more than they did in Montréal, and the Spaniard should be able to benefit more on his own serve, thanks to how quickly the court plays. Mind you, Feli made a nice run here in 2015, if you remember, beating Raonic before Rafa, and I think he can replicate that success this year, after a stretch of poor play.
Ultimately, it is Roger’s to lose. And I’m not sure he will. I think Roger will come through this quarter, and probably win the tournament, as long as his fitness holds up and doesn’t decide to throw in the white flag, so to speak, and recharge for the US Open (which probably wouldn’t be the worst idea). It wouldn’t be unreasonable considering how Roger is a big picture guy and probably (and for good reason) has his eyes set on number 20 before anything else.