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There are other tough one-week transitions in tennis—from Indian Wells to Key Biscayne and from Madrid to Rome—but Canada to Cincinnati is in many ways the toughest. There’s the midwestern heat and humidity. There’s the hard-court surface. And there’s the lack of any downtime at all between two Masters 1000 events.
This transition has already claimed its first victim: After winning the title in Toronto on Sunday, Rafael Nadal pulled out of Cincinnati to make sure he stays healthy before the US Open. But Cincy can withstand that disappointment this year. It has a loaded field; the rest of the Big 4 will be there, and they’ll be joined by an ATP youth movement that is growing more varied and impressive by the week.
Here’s a look at who, if anyone, has the best chance of making a smooth transition into Cincy, and gathering some last-minute momentum before the Open.
Full Cincinnati ATP draw
Malek Jaziri is the lucky loser who has inherited Nadal’s spot in the draw. And a very lucky loser he is; not only does he get into the tournament, he also gets Rafa’s bye into the second round. From there, though, things become more difficult. The 60th-ranked Jaziri could play Milos Raonic in his opener, and either Kyle Edmund, Denis Shapovalov, or Frances Tiafoe after that.
With Nadal out, the top seed in this section is now Grigor Dimitrov. It’s hard to believe he’s the defending champion in Cincy, isn’t it? That means it’s crunch time for Dimitrov, who has had a disappointing 2018 so far; he’ll start against either Damir Dzumhur or Mischa Zverev.
The most intriguing player in this quarter, though, is Novak Djokovic. Based on his Wimbledon form, he’s obviously the favorite to make the semis. But based on his Toronto form, he’s…not. We’ll get an idea of which Novak is in town when he faces Steve Johnson on Monday night.
First-round match to watch: Djokovic vs. Johnson, Shapovalov vs. Tiafoe
He’s up, he’s down, he’s up, he’s down again. Such is the roller-coaster life for 21-year-old Alexander Zverev these days. Just last Sunday, he finished off a mature and comprehensive run to the Citi Open title; but this week he erased the memories of that victory with a strange and unhappy collapse against Stefanos Tsitsipas in Toronto.
Does Zverev have another upswing in him before the Open? His draw would seem to say yes. He’ll start against either Robin Haase or Filip Krajinovic; the first seed he could face is Pablo Carreño Busta; and he’s scheduled to face Marin Cilic or John Isner in the quarterfinals. Cilic has won this event, and Isner has reached the final; either would be an imposing opponent for Zverev, but one that, as the world No. 4, he should beat.
Also here: Toronto semifinalist Karen Khachanov
First-round all-American matchup: Isner vs. Sam Querrey
Here we enter the land of the giants: Juan Martin del Potro and Kevin Anderson are the top two seeds in this section. Which means this section also comes with a big question: How serious is the left-wrist injury that forced Del Potro to withdraw from the Rogers Cup this past week? If he’s healthy, Delpo, who has risen to a career-high No. 3 in the world, will be among the favorites. This week, though, he could be heading to an intriguing third-round collision with Nick Kyrgios, who reached the Cincy final last year.
As for Anderson, he has, at the unlikely age of 32, made himself into one of the ATP’s most reliable competitors; last week he followed up his Wimbledon runner-up performance with a run to the semifinals in Toronto. If anyone seems mentally prepared to put in another solid week in Cincy, it’s Big Kev.
First-round match to watch: David Goffin vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas. How much will Tsitsipas, Toronto finalist and the game’s newest star, have left in his Tuesday opener?
Semifinalist: Del Potro
The big names just keep coming in this draw: In this section alone, we have Roger Federer, Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, and, almost as an afterthought, Roland Garros runner-up Dominic Thiem. Who among them is ready for a deep run? Federer will play his first match since Wimbledon; Murray his first since withdrawing from the Citi Open; Thiem his first since his sub-par effort against Tsitsipas in Canada; and Wawrinka his first since losing to Nadal in two tight sets last week. Of them, it might actually be Stan who is suddenly the best prepared for this event.
Still, it’s Federer who everyone will be watching. The seven-time Cincinnati champ will come in rested, but will he come in rusty? Federer will start against either Joao Sousa or Peter Gojowczk, and then could face either Murray or Lucas Pouille.
First-round matches to watch: Nishikori vs. Andrey Rublev, Wawrinka vs. Diego Schwartzman, Murray vs. Pouille
Semifinals: Del Potro d. Federer; Cilic d. Djokovic
Final: Del Potro d. Cilic
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