Western & Southern Financial Group Masters—Cincinnati, Ohio
Taking their experiences from Toronto into the summer's second consecutive Masters 1000 event, the ATP World Tour will next turn its attentions to the Cincinnati Masters in Ohio.
There's something to be said about winning two Masters titles in row. Although the status of the week long tournaments will never be seen in the same light as winning one of the year's four Major championships, the draws at the Masters level often hold tougher competition.
Playing in the heat of the North American summer is never easy, and if the weather in Toronto was any indicator, Cincinnati's playing conditions will be equally as tough.
Headlining the 56-man field this year will be Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray. The four men reached the semifinals in Toronto, and they will be hard pressed to repeat the same feat again.
Standing in the way of the fab four will be two Americans who were missing in the Toronto field. Although Mardy Fish and John Isner haven't claimed Grand Slam or Masters level glory as of yet, both men are rested and have already put forth respectable summers thus far.
While top seed Nadal will continue to improve his hard-court game for the US Open, players like Robin Soderling, Fernando Verdasco, and Nikolay Davydenko will be adamant on honing their skill sets for the year's final Slam.
American Andy Roddick is also back in action, and recently disclosed that he's been suffering from a mild form of mononucleosis. Roddick is a former champion in Cincinnati, and he'll have very little margin to work with as he prepares for his home-country Major.
Former top four player James Blake is also in the field, and the struggling 30-year-old will be looking to replicate the form that saw him reach the finals in 2007. Blake has only won 10 matches on the season, but he has historically played his best tennis on the asphalt.
With the Toronto event providing the springboard for the next stage of the US Open Series, let's now take a look at the top four seeds and their roads to a potential second straight top four semifinal.
After losing in straight sets to Murray in the Toronto semifinals, Nadal admitted that his serve was "horrible," and that it needed work.
The Spaniard's serve isn't the only aspect of his game that he'll need to improve if he's to win his first-ever Cincinnati title. Nadal's forehand was hit with far too much spin throughout his four matches in Canada, and he was also very negative in his match against the Scot. Nadal did step up his return of serve on a few occasions, but for the most part his returns were hit short and passive.
Nadal will face either a qualifier or good friend Feliciano Lopez in the second-round. Nadal and Lopez are constant practice partners, and the lower-ranked Spaniard did come away with a victory during their most recent Queen's Club battle. Taking the surface into account and the fact that Nadal is fresh heading into Cincinnati, a straight set romp over Lopez should be achieved.
Moving along in the draw, Nadal could set up a Toronto rematch with Stan Wawrinka in the third-round, or another Spanish affair with Nicolas Almagro. Wawrinka put forth a great effort against Nadal the last time out, while Almagro will need to keep the cap on the kettle if he's going to translate his clay-court success towards the hard-courts of North America.
Marin Cilic and Marcos Baghdatis are also in this quarter, but both men have been too inconsistent in recent weeks to count on. However, Baghdatis did recently reach the finals in Washington, and Cilic is far too good of a player to continue the current slump that he's in. The tall Croat has a wonderful game on hard-courts, and should be primed for a stellar result sooner than later.
The big name (and big worry) for Nadal in this section is Tomas Berdych. The Czech has been on everyone's mind since the French Open, and he nearly made it three straight wins over Federer in Toronto. Berdych has vastly improved his mental focus throughout this year, and he's starting to believe that he should be a top favorite in every tournament.
I was really impressed with Berdych's play in Toronto, and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if he clips Nadal in a potential quarterfinal match.
However, Nadal did say that he's ready to work hard and improve on his hard-court game before the upcoming US Open. I'm not totally convinced that he'll win in New York later this summer, and a match against Berdych would provide all sorts of challenges. But Nadal is the master of finding a way through the difficult moments of any contest, and although he looked down and out against Murray, one has to believe that his spirits will improve in Mason.
Get ready for another great night match if Nadal and Berdych face off, a match that would see Nadal hopefully serve better and go for his shots.
Berdych became the "old Berdych" to end his campaign in Toronto, and that player won't be good enough to defeat Nadal in Cincinnati.
After almost melting away in the second-round in Toronto, Djokovic picked up his level and almost reached the finals last week. The Serb played only night matches after his dog-fight with Julien Benneteau, and that will be a variable to watch out for in Cincinnati. There's no question that Djokovic is a supremely talented player, but he'll need the scheduling committee to hook him up with some night matches if he's to move on.
Starting off against Radek Stepanek or Viktor Troicki, Djokovic could potentially meet either David Nalbandian, Ivan Ljubicic, or Isner in the third-round. We all know what Nalbandian's been up to lately, and Ljubicic's serve can never be taken for granted. The X-factor in this quarter could very well be Isner. The Georgia native did take last week off in order to rest, and he's been in good form, as of late. But Isner did pull out of Toronto citing fatigue, and his road to the weekend in Cincinnati is questionable.
Other players to watch out for in this section include No. 5 seed Robin Soderling, No. 9 seed Roddick, and former finalist Lleyton Hewitt. Apart from the powerful Swede, Roddick and Hewitt will enter the event carrying injury and illness. Roddick recently admitted that he's been suffering from mono, while Hewitt has been battling a leg injury. Hewitt will likely not be a factor this week, while Roddick's stamina remains unknown.
I've been waiting for Soderling to put forth a great outdoor hard-court result, and this week could be his chance. Falling to Nalbandian last week, Soderling remains confident and should rebound nicely in Mason. The missile-hitting Swede has proven that his lone objective is to win tennis matches, and he could turn a few more heads in this quarter.
Although Djokovic played great to end his Toronto journey, one has to think that a tough day session match will be his worst enemy. Soderling though, has shown that regardless of the heat or the opponent on the other side of the net, his year has included many draw-busting results.
Look for Soderling to get hot in Cincy, and then carry his momentum into New York.
Flying mighty under the humid Canadian sky, Federer dialed in his experience and court sense to reach the finals. The defending Cincy champ appeared relaxed throughout his week in Toronto, but his game did showcase slower movement and the inability to continue his momentum. Defeating his 2010 nemesis Berdych in the quarterfinals, Federer relied on his serve more than any other shot to advance.
I mentioned throughout my coverage last week that Federer has indeed lost a step. His slower movement has inevitably resulted from the success that he's encountered. Winning over 700 career matches is bound to take its toll on a player's legs.
Federer does have some talented (but flaky) players to deal with in this section, beginning presumably with American James Blake. Blake has become a fraction of the player that he once was, but he still holds enough power behind his forehand to create an upset. Blake, like Federer, has also lost a step after approaching his 30th birthday.
Athletic Frenchman Gael Monfils is also in this quarter, but he did encounter a left shoulder injury against Murray last week after diving for a ball. Go figure. Monfils has the court coverage and ball speed to dismiss anyone in the world, but his shot-selection and ability to fight when it's mattered has been suspect at times.
David Ferrer will face tricky Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov in his opening hurdle. I've talked extensively about Dolgopolov and he could very well turn into the breakout player of 2010. Ferrer is a great fighter though, and he will be tough as nails to defeat right off the bat.
Sam Querrey (will once again) attempt to rid himself of the "not being a big tournament player" label. Losing in the second-round of Toronto and the first-round in Washington, Querrey has done great when it hasn't mattered, but he's faltered when the world has watched. Querrey will face unorthodox German Philipp Petzschner in his first match.
Davydenko is the second highest seed in this quarter, but based on what we've seen from the Russian as of late, I wouldn't expect much a run. Struggling on Tour since suffering from a broken wrist in March, Davydenko holds a 5-7 record since his return.
Federer may show some signs of fatigue in Cincinnati after his long week in Toronto, but the players in his section—apart from Ferrer—haven't proved the overall mettle this year to defeat a top player.
Proving that he still holds the status as an elite best out of three set player, Murray will march into Cincinnati in search of his second career title.
Displaying the court craft in Canada that allowed him to take home his first trophy of the season, Murray will face a competent quarter of baseline players. With the likelihood of taking on Jeremy Chardy in his second-round match, Murray could battle Ernests Gulbis or Jurgen Melzer in the round of 16. Melzer and Gulbis were ousted early in Toronto, and both players will be motivated to gather a few wins heading into New York.
An unseeded player who will be closely watched this week is Mardy Fish. Winning two titles after Wimbledon, Fish decided to sit out of the Toronto qualifying last week and better prepare himself to mount a serious charge in Cincinnati. I like what I've been seeing from Fish this summer, and he could be in line for a surprise US Open showing. Believing that he belongs at the top of game, Fish's improved fitness and easy flowing serve could break open this quarter.
Fernando Verdasco remains the highest ranked player in this section after Murray, but his form since the French Open has suggested that his game is weary. I was amazed by Verdasco's fall-to-pieces loss against Chardy in Canada, and his confidence is anything but high at the moment.
Furthermore, after taking Murray's inevitable letdown into account, while witnessing Verdasco swear his way out of Toronto, Fish appears the go-to player to rule this section.
It wasn't too long ago that Robby Ginepri reached the semifinals of the US Open. The year was 2005 to be exact. Could history repeat itself once again and have another American journeyman light up the summer season?
Fish has defeated Murray twice this year, and holds a 2-1 head-to-head series lead over Verdasco. Knowing that this may be his final year to create a significant dent on Tour, look for Fish to stun this quarter and remain a contender in Flushing Meadows.
Semifinals: Nadal vs. Federer; Fish vs. Soderling
Finals: Nadal vs. Soderling