Andy Murray defeats Alexander Zverev at Cincinnati Masters
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With Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer skipping a Masters 1000 event for the second week in a row, there looks to be no clear favourite for the upcoming Cincinnati Open. Although there is no standout player in the absence of the Big Three, a number of new stars have been stepping up to prove themselves in recent years and have a good chance of capturing the title at the Western & Southern Open.
Djokovic, Nadal and Federer all signed up to play both US Open warm-up events in Toronto and Cincinnati but were forced to pull out of the Masters tournaments ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year.
The world No 1 announced he would not be competing after the Olympics, saying he wanted to take an extended period of rest after a gruelling start to the season, in which he won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Swiss star Federer withdrew from both tournaments citing an ongoing knee injury, which comes after he announced he would not be heading to Tokyo for the Olympics having suffered a “setback” with the injury during the grass court season.
Meanwhile, Nadal looked to be the only man of the big three left standing as he headed to Washington for the ATP 500 event last week before travelling to Canada for the National Bank Open but subsequently pulled out of Toronto and Cincinnati, flying home to consult his doctor over his own ongoing injury in his left foot.
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The 20-time Grand Slam champions are always favourites in any draw, even when dealing with injuries or coming back from long breaks, thanks to their dominance over the last two decades.
However, even without the usual obvious favourites present at the upcoming Western & Southern Open, there are plenty of players who look set to seize the opportunity and capture a prestigious Masters 1000 title in Cincinnati next week.
The Greek already looks unstoppable so far this week in Toronto, where the big three are also noticeably missing from the draw. He’s already got an impressive roster, having won the ATP Finals back in 2019, as well as his first Masters in Monte Carlo this year, weeks before making his first Grand Slam final at Roland Garros.
He’s also proven he can beat the best, dispatching of Nadal on the clay courts of Madrid a few years ago, as well as posting wins over Federer at the Australian Open and Djokovic at hard court Masters events in the past. If they are regarded as the best of all time, by that logic Tsitsipas should be able to beat anyone if he can beat them.
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Another young gun already proving he can capitalise on tournaments without the big three, Medvedev is the top seed in Toronto and Cincinnati in the absence of world No 1 Djokovic, and has already admitted in press this week that he feels less pressure as the man to beat than he did earlier in his career.
The Russian has two Grand Slam finals, three Masters 1000 titles and the ATP Finals crown under his belt already, as well as wins over the Big Three, and never seems to be fazed no matter who his opponent is, often coming through tough battles even when he appears to be having an argument or moment of controversy.
Often grouped in with Tsitsipas and Medvedev as the three brightest young stars who all came up at a similar time, Zverev posts similar achievements to the world No 2 and 3 with wins over Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, a US Open final, ATP Finals title and four Masters trophies.
The German has been absent from Toronto this week but for good reason – he’s taking time to rest after capturing the gold medal at the recent Olympics, where he became the man to end Djokovic’s chances of achieving the Golden Slam when he beat the Serb from a set and a break down in the semi-finals, and he appears the favourite compared to Tsitsipas and Medvedev in Cincinnati as he will have extra rest compared to them.
The recent Wimbledon finalist has looked unstoppable for the most part of the summer but there are some doubts over his form, with the Italian skipping the Olympics and this week’s Toronto Masters as he deals with a thigh injury.
However, you’d assume the world No 8 wouldn’t return unless he felt fully fit and ready, and he will be looking to build on his confidence from the grass court season, where he went unbeaten until losing to Djokovic from a set up in the finals at the All England Club. He enjoys the North American hard courts, having made the US Open semi-finals in 2019, and will be tough to beat in Cincinnati with his big-hitting.
Roberto Bautista Agut
The Spaniard may not be as big a name as some of the young guns but many in the know will likely be surprised that Bautista Agut has never picked up a Masters title. The world No 17 very nearly beat Djokovic during the semi-finals in last year’s Cincinnati tournament – which was actually played in New York – and has proven he can beat the best at the toughest tournaments in the past.
The nine-time titlist, often nicknamed RBA, has previously beaten Djokovic at other outdoor hard court Masters in Miami and Shanghai, as well as the ATP 500 in Dubai, but hasn’t got any wins over Federer or Nadal. He often finds himself in the latter stages of tournaments and could capitalise on the big three’s absence to finally go a few better in Cincinnati and pick up the title.
The Pole has to be thrown into the mix as the only man to have proven himself at a Masters without the big three so far. When Djokovic, Nadal and Federer all skipped the Miami Open earlier this year, Hurkacz became something of a surprise champion as he picked up his first Masters 1000 title.
After struggling for a few months after, he’s now back and better than ever having recently made the Wimbledon semi-finals as well as the quarters this week in Toronto, where he narrowly lost out to Medvedev in a match where the Russian admitted Hurkacz was the better player.
While the big three are all missing in Cincinnati, the same can’t be said when you expand the group out to the big four. The former world No 1 bagged himself a wildcard into the tournament and opens against a qualifier, giving him a good chance to play himself into the tournament and try to make a deep run – perhaps even to the title.
At last year’s Western & Southern Open, held at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York for a one-off as tennis resumed after the pandemic, he proved he’s still a force to be reckoned with in the biggest tournaments as he beat Frances Tiafoe and Zverev back-to-back. He also seriously impressed with some tough comeback wins at Wimbledon recently so it will be interesting to see how Murray fares on a hard court off the back of a positive grass season.
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