Roger Federer makes his summer debut on the hardcourts in Cincinnati next week as the tournament defending champion. Federer, in fact, has won the title five times before, but this year could be his toughest test ever, and not just due to his recent slump. More so because his fellow rivals Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are in the draw as is Rafael Nadal who’s landed right in Roger’s quarter! Oh boy!
Djokovic is again the top seed, but the Serb has never won in Cincinnati, finishing second four of the last five years – it’s the only Masters event missing from Novak’s trophy cabinet. However, Novak has to like what he sees this time around. He’ll play either Juan Monaco or Jurgen Melzer to start, then likely Gilles Simon, who opens against Vasek Pospisil. Novak’s quarterfinal seed is once again Richard Gasquet. But in a very competitive section I think John Isner or Milos Raonic will emerge over the Frenchman. Cincinnati’s usually a faster court, but I’ll go with Novak over one of the big guys still.
David Ferrer and the hobbled Juan Martin Del Potro are in the second quarter and it’s hard to gauge either of them. Ferrer has to be disappointed after a poor loss in Canada while Del Potro’s saddled with that back injury. Yet if the Argentine is okay he’s the class guy to return to the semifinals for a second straight year. If he’s not healthy then maybe Benoit Paire, Kei Nishikori or Jerzy Janowicz could sneak out of what is a very wide open section.
Federer will debut his bigger racquet on the hardcourts, and it’s going to get tested early. In a rematch of the 2010 Cincinnati final, Federer could meet the recovering Mardy Fish in the second round, then his buddy Tommy Haas in the third. And if he gets through that one – no sure bet these days – it’s Nadal. And unfortunately, if Nadal is there, which I think he will be because he’s got a terrific draw, Rafa’s going to win. Roger says he gets more power with the larger frame racquet but sacrifices some control. To me that spells certain trouble against Nadal.
Two-time champion Andy Murray anchors the bottom section. And it won’t be an easy road. The Scot, who’s in the doubles semifinals Saturday in Montreal, could face an immediate revenge match against an improved Ernests Gulbis, then maybe Julien Benneteau before a date with Tomas Berdych. Like Ferrer, I think Murray will also be motivated by his poor loss to Gulbis in Montreal, therefore I expect a big week from Andy ahead.
So my semifinals right now look like Djokovic against Del Potro and Nadal vs. Murray. It’s hard to pick this early, but I’ll take Murray to begin his US Open push by beating Djokovic to win another Cincinnati title.
Before we get to the title bout, though, I have to say there’s a treasure trove of good first round matchups: Pospisil/Simon, Sock/Raonic, Blake/Janowicz, Haas/Anderson, Dimitrov/Almagro, Seppi/Wawrinka, Fognini/Stepanek and Gulbis/Youzhny to name a few. So it has the markings for a great week of tennis and a fitting final stop for the top guys before the US Open.
Matches begin on Monday. The top eight seeds start Tuesday.
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