While Andy Murray returns meaning the Big 4 are back in business at a Masters this upcoming week in Cincinnati, the top line story is will Rafael Nadal even play the event, especially given the weather and backed-up schedule in Canada?
Assuming Nadal goes on to win Canada as projected, then he’ll get the second seeding in New York, and would have less incentive to play in Cincinnati. If he doesn’t defend in Canada, then 2018 finalist Roger Federer could potentially jump Nadal for that second spot at the US Open, and thus avoiding Novak Djokovic until the final and possibly staying clear or Nadal in the semifinals as well.
So it’s a big difference for both guys.
As for Cincinnati, the draw is absolutely stacked with just about everybody entered except Juan Martin Del Potro, Kevin Anderson and Milos Raonic who are all fighting injury.
Djokovic beat Federer 6-4, 6-4 a year ago to complete his set of 9 Masters crowns. We can’t see that final again because the two are seeded to meet in the semifinals, so at least on a bottom half with Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori and Nadal, I think we’ll see some surprises.
To the draw…
NOVAK DJOKOVIC QUARTER
After a full month of rest following his incredible Wimbledon win, Djokovic returns to defend his 2018 title. And he’s the favorite this week, rightfully so. He’ll open against some tough customers in big-serving duo of Sam Querrey and then former finalist John Isner. In the quarters, it’s a mish-mash among former finalist Nick Kyrgios, Karen Khachanov, Denis Shapovalov and Fabio Fognini. The courts in Cincinnati are usually quick, so that eliminates Fognini and to a degree Shapovalov who hasn’t been in form. So after his big Washington title, I’ll lean to Kyrgios to come through over a tired Khachanov, but Djokovic emerges in the end.
The Pick: Novak Djokovic
ROGER FEDERER QUARTER
Keep picking against Federer at your peril. Sure, this will be his first event at a 38-year-old, but for him, his age doesn’t seem to matter. Let’s just say he’s 28! (He probably really is!) Anyway, for a loaded Masters event he’s got a decent draw with the tough Italian Matteo Berrettini to start, then probably good friend Stan Wawrinka, who has to again deal with 2017 champion Grigor Dimitrov in his opener. In the quarter I think Daniil Medvedev has proven to be a force. Assuming the Russian isn’t too gassed from D.C. and Montreal, I think he gets through a tough section that includes Kyle Edmund, Fernando Verdasco and Stefanos Tsitsipas. And I give him a shot against Federer, but like in Miami, the Swiss is too good.
The Pick: Roger Federer
DOMINIC THIEM QUARTER
Now the fun begins. In this section we have Thiem, Zverev, Marin Cilic, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Gael Monfils, Roberto Bautista Agut, Hubert Hurkacz and of course Andy Murray who faces Richard Gasquet. I’ll start with Murray who I think can beat Gasquet but won’t beat Thiem. So Thiem gets into the third to probably face Cilic for a second straight week. I like the former champ Cilic, this time, to make the quarters. In the other section, there’s Zverev who’ll meet FAA in a good one plus Monfils-Tiafoe and RBA-Hurkacz. RBA’s been the most solid but he’s never done well in Cincy (just 2 wins). Monfils seems due for an injury and Zverev has been an enigma of late. So does that leave FAA? Why not, I’ll go with the young Canadian to learn from his poor serving in Montreal to get through Zverev, RBA and then Cilic to reach his biggest semifinal. It’s a big ask, but he did just make the Miami semifinals and was up a set and break on Khachanov a few days ago.
The Pick: Felix Auger-Aliassime
RAFAEL NADAL QUARTER
I know Rafa has swept both Canada and Cincinnati before, but if he does play Sunday in Montreal, I question if he’ll play next week. He’s two from Federer in the Slam race and I just don’t see the need to risk his US Open chances trying to win a title he hasn’t taken since 2013. So a lot depends on that. Otherwise, Rafa’s got a cupcake draw to the semifinals with Adrian Mannarino, Taylor Fritz, then maybe Reilly Opelka or Kei Nishikori in the quarters. If Nadal pulls, then there’s a chance a new seed takes his spot (FAA?), and that would change a lot. So for now, I’ll assume Rafa’s going to play and give it his all, avoided the upset bids from Mannarino and Opelka and get to next Saturday.
The Pick: Rafael Nadal
Djokovic d Federer: Djokovic does it again over the Swiss.
FAA d Nadal: FAA picks up biggest career win and denies another Big 3 final.
Djokovic d FAA: Djokovic too strong for the teen.
So again, this whole draw depends on Nadal. He could withdraw like he did a year ago and blow up that section. His quarter is already weak and if Rafa vacates it, it really opens the door for someone and possibility of a seed replacing his spot depending upon when that withdrawal takes place.
Still, this title will likely come down to either Djokovic or Federer. Roger’s won the title seven times so if Djokovic slips somewhere to a Querrey, Isner or a Kyrgios (a quick, big server, which could happen), then Federer becomes the man to beat.
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