Sunday evening marked the end of what is always this Cincinnatian’s favorite week of the year. The Western and Southern Open once again served as the final major preparation for the world’s best tennis players before they head to New York for the U.S. Open. Here is a look back at the week that was in Cincy.
Withdraws pile up:
This has been such a huge story line at so many prestigious events over the last handful of years. The withdrawal list for Cincinnati reads like a Hall of Fame ballot. Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori are all focusing on the 2018 season for various reasons.
Given that, the last minute withdrawals of Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray among others were a tough blow for the tournament. Hopefully, some of these big names will be ready to go for the big show in New York in less than a week. As for Cincy, the show must go on, and it did.
Fresh faces emerge:
Withdraws create opportunity. Rafael Nadal was the only one of the “Big Four” to answer the bell in Cincinnati. He was upset by enigmatic Aussie Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals. This event marked the end of 42 consecutive Masters Series events where none of the “Big Four” reached at least the semifinals.
Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov faced off in a final that featured two players who had not yet lived up to their immense potential on a consistent basis. Dimitrov prevailed in two relatively tight sets. The Bulgarian was once given the nickname “Baby Fed,” a nod to his playing style that mimics that of the greatest player who ever lived. He struggled with handling the hype and expectations for a while. Something clicked for him this year. He reached the semifinals in Australia and won his biggest title yet this past week in Cincinnati.
Much like his opponent in the final, it was never a question of talent with Kyrgios either, it was the mental game. The 22-year-old has been served with a handful of fines and suspensions over the years for poor on court behavior including lack of best effort last year at the Shanghai Masters.
Despite those issues, he still managed to pick up big wins and become a solid top 30 player. Anyone who can do what he did to Nadal this week is capable of so much more than being a solid top 30 player.
Neither Kyrgios nor Dimitrov have any real weakness in their game. They possess every shot and can hit winners from anywhere on the court. The questions are all between the ears. Hopefully this week showed them what they are capable of. This has the potential to be the next great rivalry in tennis.
Muguruza solidifies herself:
After winning her first major at the 2016 French Open, Garbiñe Muguruza really struggled to back up that result. The big hitting Spaniard did not reach a singles final of any kind until her surprise win at Wimbledon this year.
She clearly learned something from her first post major victory slump. She reached at least the quarterfinals of all three hardcourt events she played this summer. This culminated in Cincinnati when she absolutely obliterated World No. 2 Simona Halep in Sunday’s final, dropping just a single game.
The women’s game has been too unpredictable for the last two years to call anyone a clear favorite heading into a Grand Slam. However, in Cincinnati, Muguruza certainly proved that she is on the big stage to stay this time around. She also put herself on the short list of contenders to raise the U.S. Open trophy on September 9th.
While going to the Cincinnati event every year is a blast for me, focus now shifts the U.S. Open draws that will be made Friday. Assuming he is healthy, Federer will be tough to beat. There is serious question as to whether Murray will play at all. So, conditions may be right for a young gun to step up again.
For the women, the draw will be centered around one question. Where will controversial wildcard Maria Sharapova land? While it is difficult to see the 2006 champion making a deep run, she and her peers know what she is capable of. No one wants to play her.
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