By Mike McIntyre
A few days removed from a third round loss at the Rogers Cup should help world Number One Novak Djokovic work on a few things in practice and refocus on his U.S. Open preparations. Djokovic receives a first round bye once again and then opens against the winner between Gilles Simon and Bernard Tomic. The month off after Wimbledon is tough on all players and those in Toronto witnessed that first hand with the high number of upsets that happened there. Expect the top guys to shake off the rust and have a deeper run here in Cincinnati as they get closer to the final Grand Slam of the year.
In the top quarter Djokovic has a possible third round meeting with solid veteran Tommy Robredo who knocked-off Jack Sock in the opening round 7-6(5), 6-3. A good win for Tommy considering that Sock was ripping his forehand pretty well last week in Canada and has been enjoying success in both singles and doubles this summer.
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga is a likely quarter-final opponent for Djokovic and would give him a chance to redeem himself from the 6-2, 6-2 beating that the Frenchman put on him at the Rogers Cup. Tsonga must first overcome the crafty Mikhail Youzhny in the opening round who has won three of the last four matches between the two. Fatigue may be a factor for Tsonga, although if he plays like he did last week in Toronto and carries that momentum forward he should be just fine. Can he beat Djokovic in back-to-back tournaments, I don't think so. Should Djokovic win the title in Cincinnati he will become the only player in the history of the ATP World Tour to have won all nine Masters 1000 titles in his career.
In the second quarter of the draw, Stan Wawrinka is the 3rd seed and will face Benjamin Becker who beat Ivo Karlovic 7-6(5), 6-4 in his first match of the tourney. "Stan the Man" could face Marin Cilic in the third round before a likely encounter with recent Masters 1000 semi-finalist Grigor Dimitrov who had a successful week in Toronto. Dimitrov made the second Masters semi-final of this career this past week and is one of only two players on Tour this year who have won titles on all three surfaces (along with Djokovic).
In the third quarter, Milos Raonic is the 5th seed and despite his loss to Feliciano Lopez at his home tournament last week, the Canadian is looking more and more like a bonafide member of the top-ten. After his bye, Raonic will face the winner between Dominic Thiem who represents the future of the ATP World Tour and Robby Ginepri who I think we can all agree represents the past. The enigmatic Ernests Gulbis could face Milos in round three and a potential quarter-final battle with 4th seed Tomas Berdych also looms. Berdych was practicing hard last week in Toronto with Andy Murray. We'll see if any of that work pays off as he looks to take his hardcourt season up a notch. Berdych is in a slump that has seen him win no more than two matches in-a-row since the French Open in May.
In the final quarter of the draw, Roger Federer is the second seed and is coming off a strong result in Toronto where he lost the final to an in-form Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Federer will see either 35 year old Radek Stepanek or 24 year old Vasek Pospisil in the second round. He could get Gael Monfils in the third round which would be fun to watch - heck Monfils against just about anyone is a fun match to watch. Andy Murray could see Fed in the quarter-finals which would give fans and tournament organizers plenty to cheer about. I feel that Murray is due for a breakthrough performance and Cincinnati could be the place this finally happens. I know he had to overcome back surgery in the off-season but the fact that the Scot has not been in a final all year on the ATP Tour is quite shocking. Murray has won this event twice before, in 2008 and 2011. He's no doubt hoping that this three year in-between titles trend continues.
Ultimately I am going with Djokovic, Dimitrov, Raonic and Murray to make it through their respective quarters and I'll take Murray over Djokovic in the finals. This will be the last apperance of most of the top players on Tour before the U.S. Open begins later this month. One interesting stat to note is that in the 44 year history of the Western & Southern Open, the winner has gone on to win the final Grand Slam of the year in Flushing Meadows 9 times. Most recently Rafael Nadal proved that winning Cincinnati is excellent preparation for the Open, we'll see if someone else can do the same in 2014.