The Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati was a relatively calm and orderly affair compared to the Rogers Cup the week before. There were no sledges made, very few rain delays, and no newcomers making major breakthroughs. But there is always plenty of history and positioning for the upcoming U.S. Open on the line, so the W&S Open is one of the most important tournaments on the tennis calendar, and this year was no different.
The Unbreakable Maestro
Before the summer started, Roger Federer announced that he would skip the Rogers Cup, stunning tennis fans from Albania to Zimbabwe. Surely he would lose his World No. 2 ranking and the No. 2 seed at the U.S. Open for this foolish decision. And sure enough, Federer fell to No. 3 after Andy Murray’s victory in Montreal, and when Murray made the semifinals at Cincinnati, the only way for Federer to get the No. 2 ranking back was to win the tournament. What Federer did in this tournament surprised pretty much everybody. He was never broken once in the tournament, did not drop a set, and played a style of tennis that was bold, majestic, and age-defying. The man is 34 years old yet just beat the No. 1 and 2 players in the world successively for the first time in his career. He never dropped his serve in 44 service games. He practically returned serves from the service line. His volleys were Edbergesque. And he now has seven Cincinnati flower vases sitting on his mantle. With Murray’s Montreal win and Federer’s in Cincinnati, the upcoming U.S. Open has become a lot more interesting and unpredictable.
Survival of the Strongest
Watching Serena Williams march through a tournament to another title brings back the scene when Scarlet O’Hara was stepping through the wounded soldiers in Atlanta as she looked for someone. Will anyone be fit, healthy, and ready to challenge Serena in New York? Simona Halep seems to be back on track after early losses at Roland Garros and Wimbledon but with her incredibly hard schedule, one has to wonder when she will break down again like she did in the Toronto final against Belinda Bencic. The fact remains that the only person who can beat Serena is Serena herself. The mounting pressure must be incredible, but if anyone can do it, it’s Ms. Williams. And she gets another Cincinnati vase to put on her very crowed mantlepiece.
Another Record Denied
Back in June, Novak Djokovic was one win away from completing his career Grand Slam at the French Open. It seemed like it was destiny after finally beating Rafael Nadal for the first time in seven tries. But Stan Wawrinka stood in his way and denied him a record only a few have accomplished. This week, Djokovic was going for another record: a Masters 1000 box set. No one has ever won all nine Masters 1000 tournaments. Federer lacks Rome and Monte Carlo, Nadal has never won Miami and Paris (Bercy), and Andre Agassi is also two titles short of a set. Amazingly, Djokovic has never won in Cincinnati but after his defeat in the Montreal final last week, most thought he would make a statement before the U.S. Open started. But a new and improved Federer, on one of his favorite courts, once again kept Djokovic from making history. Djokovic is at a special place in his career right now. Every time he wins, he takes one more step to glory, but the other side of the coin is that every time he loses, he is denied another record of some sort. It’s an enviable place to be in, and it’s tough to win everything. Djokovic will definitely be looking to make a statement in New York now.
The Walking Wounded of the WTA
The number of players who have been injured, dropped out of the tournament, or retired from their matches is becoming alarming. Maria Sharapova (leg injury), Petra Kvitova (mono), Caroline Wozniacki (leg), Belinda Bencic (wrist), Victoria Azarenka (leg), and Venus Williams (illness) are some of the top players who have been struggling with injuries or health during the summer months. At this rate, there won’t be anyone to challenge Serena Williams as she marches full steam ahead to her calendar Grand Slam at the U.S. Open. It’s been disappointing to see and leaving a whole lot of questions for the final Grand Slam of the year.
For the last 10 years, Rafael Nadal has won at least one Grand Slam every year. Since 2004, when he won his first French Open, he has left his teeth marks on one of the major titles’ trophies, but his record run is in serious jeopardy. After going out in the second round of Wimbledon, Nadal went over to Hamburg and won a tournament on his beloved clay and then was destroyed by Nishikori in the quarterfinals in Montreal, and defeated in the third round in Cincinnati by compatriot Feliciano Lopez. The Nadal we know and expect has just not appeared this year and it looks like his record run of major titles is finally over.
The tournament changed but the uproar over the brash Nick Kyrgios refuses to go away. He said he had apologized to Stan Wawrinka in person, but then Wawrinka said that no such thing happened. He said, he said. After giving out a $10,000 fine, the ATP has been quiet, but Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic condemned the remarks. Kyrgios has really isolated himself from the tennis community and will have to really work hard to gain some trust and acceptance on the tour. He was very quiet in Cincinnati this week, taking only three games from Richard Gasquet.
Fasten Your Seatbelts Because Here Come the U.S. Open
There are two more warm-up tournaments in Connecticut and North Carolina this week, and then the final Grand Slam tournament finally comes. The two weeks in Canada and Ohio have given us more questions than clues or answers about what is going to happen on the men’s side, while on the women’s side, the results thus far look like a dress rehearsal. But as is so often the case with the greatest sport on earth, it hasn’t been boring.
Cover Photo (Creative Commons License): mirsasha