By Richard Pagliaro | Monday 15th August 2016
Grigor Dimitrov plays Gilles Simon in his Cincinnati opener.
Photo credit: Western & Southern Open
Andy Murray rose to the Olympic podium again and is now climbing the Masters Mountain for the first time.
With the world no.1 Novak Djokovic Murray is sitting at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati this week and is leading the draw for the first time in a Masters Series event.
Del Potro: Murray’s mind made a difference
Will the two-time Olympic gold medalist be exhausted from his run in Rio or strengthened by the fact that he has won 33 of his last 35 games and is the favorite with both arch-nemesis Djokovic and seven-time Cincinnati champion? Roger Federer out of order?
Here are five storylines to follow for the Cincinnati men’s field this week.
1. No Novak
An emotionally devastated Djokovic left the Rio Center Court in tears after his defeat in the first round Juan Martin del Potro. As expected, the number 1 in the world withdrew from Cincinnati to rest, recover and emotionally recharge before his US Open title defense.
Cincinnati is the only championship title that Djokovic has not yet won. You can check out the fact that he lost early in two of his last three tournaments, including a shocking third-round Wimbledon loss to Sam Querrey in 41st place as Djokovic is vulnerable.
Djokovic still has an immense lead of nearly 6,400 points over Murray on the leaderboard, beating three top 15 players in a row without dropping a set to take his record-breaking 30th Masters title in Toronto last month, and will continue a 33-2 record hard courts in New York City.
Given Djokovic’s trauma from his loss in Rio, skipping Cincinnati could be just what he needs to prepare for the US Open.
2. Medal health or hangover?
Top-Seed Murray, Third-Seed Rafael Nadal and fifth seed Kei Nishikori Each won Olympic medals after sidelining the Rio runs, and all three faced formidable challenges to recover for Cincinnati.
Murray made history del Potro In a four-hour, two-minute battle for the wear and tear of the baseline, he became the first player to successfully defend the gold medal in Olympic singles. Can the two-time Cincinnati champion step down from the euphoria of his Rio high to extend his winning streak in 18 games? Murray could meet Nishikori in a quarter-finals of the Rio semi-finals.
Nadal ended his 73-day sabbatical year with a bang, which won him the double gold medal Marc Lopez and to reach the last four in singles.
The good news: The 14-time Grand Slam champion showed his strong competitiveness and aggressive basic tennis throughout the tournament.
The bad news: Nadal admitted that his moody left wrist injury still bothers him when he hits his forehand and isn’t sure how his body will perform in after entering three disciplines – singles, doubles, and mixed doubles Rio will respond.
“The wrist is not perfect. It bothers me when I hit the forehand,” said Nadal. “The serve, the backhand – nothing else bothers me.
“The truth is, when I hit the forehand I feel like it bothers me a little, but without a doubt it was a positive week in every way. I played for many hours and at least the wrist didn’t get any worse.”
3. Fast Track Factor
Traditionally, the Cincinnati course plays faster than most Masters hard courts and figures to provide a faster surface and less bounce than the players encountered on the rougher Rio course.
Who is being asked to adapt to the interface?
No. 2-sown Stan Wawrinka prefers to play several feet behind the baseline to trigger his strokes. Since falling to Federer in the 2012 semifinals, Wawrinka has been back in the quarterfinals for the past two years, but has not yet won a title on North American soil. The two-time Grand Slam champion opens against the American wild card Jared Donaldsonwho knocked off Nicolas Almagro in the first round.
Whom does the fast lane help?
If Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic plays with the same aggression he showed when he reached consecutive title fights at Queen’s Club and SW19. He could be a force. Raonic, a 2014 Cincinnati semi-finalist, lost to Feliciano Lopez in the first round last year and will face either Fabio Fognini or Isner, whom the Canadian has never beaten, in his opener.
Nick kyrgios finished Isner’s reign in Atlanta earlier this month, hitting 18 aces without falling to earn his second career title. Kyrgios opening the Wimbledon quarter-finalists Lucas Pouille In their first career conflict, serving with authority and avoiding the self-inflicted stress that can pull them down can be a threat.
4th year of youth
Five teenagers –Borna Coric, Jared Donaldson, Taylor Fritz, Reilly Opelka and Alexander Zverev– are most in the field since 2005.
Additionally 22 year old Dominic Thiem, the youngest member of the top 10, should definitely get back on his feet after the exits in the opening round in Toronto and Kitzbühel after a departure in the second round at Wimbledon. Thiem has set a 16-6 hard court record this season, including winning the Acapulco title. In Cincinnati, however, he has yet to win one match.
5. House loot
The US Open Series often features an American finalist.
An American has made the Cincinnati Finals in seven of the last 13 years. Andy Roddick was the last American to win and defeat Cincinnati Juan Carlos Ferrero placeholder image, 6-4, 6-4, in the 2004 final. Roddick also saved a few championship points over the former high school roommate Mardy Fish, 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, in the 2003 final, the longest Cincinnati final since 1960. John Isner is the last American to contest the final and lose against Rafael Nadal in two tie break sets in 2013.