Cincinnati Masters: Federer joins battling Murray and Djokovic in quarters

Cincinnati Masters: Fast and furious Roger Federer joins battling Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic in quarters

With 16 men left standing, and the rain-storms of previous days at last banished from the schedule, the Western & Southern Open was left with every one of its headline players competing for the quarter-finals.

All three previous Cincinnati champions remained in contention—Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Rafael Nadal—along with all six Grand Slam champions—Federer, Murray and Nadal joined by Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka.

What’s more, they took on some of tennis’s most exciting players, the likes of No12 seed Richard Gasquet, No16 seed Grigor Dimitrov, and No 13 seed David Goffin—and each of these would bring plenty of shock and awe to the court.

At the top of the draw, Djokovic was still on course for one special new record: by adding the Cincinnati title to his resume, he would become the only man ever to win all nine Masters crowns. But he looked out of sorts in the early stages, and after edging the first set, 6-4, an on-fire Goffin frustrated Djokovic to the nth degree to surge to the second set, 6-2.

Djokovic released the tension with a smashed racket, but still found himself two breaks down at the start of the third, 0-3. But then the nerves of the less experienced Goffin kicked in and Djokovic sniffed the weakness. A break back heralded a run of six straight games to win the match, 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

That set up a highly anticipated quarter-final against Wawrinka in a rematch of their two compelling Grand Slam meetings this year. Djokovic beat the Swiss in five sets in Australia but Wawrinka played the tennis of his life to win the French Open title in four sets.

He, like Djokovic, had to dig deep to reach the quarters at all. Having already come back from a set down to beat Borna Coric in his first match, he had to do the same against the formidable tower of a man, Ivo Karlovic.

Wawrinka would face 35 aces as Karlovic continued his assault on the record for most career aces currently held by Goran Ivanisevic, but in over two and a half hours and three tie-breakers, the Swiss saved all three break points he faced to win, 6-7(2), 7-6(5), 7-6(5).

Djokovic’s view of their Roland Garros re-match? “Both of us are still not playing our best, but hopefully we can rise to the occasion and have a good match.”

Cincinnati will hope and expect the same, but then Cincinnati had hoped and expected for a first meeting in a year and half between Federer and Nadal, but that was not to be.

For although Nadal has won three titles this year, he has struggled to regain his form since missing the latter half of 2014 with injury and illness. He had yet to beat anyone ranked in the top five and had recorded just two top-10 wins—David Ferrer and Tomas Berdych. His best Grand Slam run was the quarters in Paris, and his only Masters final a loss to Murray in Madrid.

He did have a dominant record over fellow Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, but the 33-year-old man from Madrid was in fine shape, and hit a career-high ranking of No12 this March. What’s more, his powerful serve-and-volley game suited these fast courts. And for Lopez, who already had straight-sets wins over No9 seed Milos Raonic and Andreas Seppi in the bag, all those positives came together in a blistering performance.

Nadal broke Lopez to take the first set, 7-5, but conceded a break early in the second set, and Lopez, whose serve was now performing considerably better than in the opener, levelled, 6-4.

Both Nadal and Lopez served solidly in the decider, dropping just three and four points respectively on first serve and offering up not a break point. It came down to a tie-breaker, and a lithe Lopez attacked with an overhead winner and two aces—making 43 winners for the match—to win 7-6(3) after almost two and a half hours of gripping tennis.

So when defending champion Federer followed Nadal onto court for the concluding match, he knew he would not be facing his old adversary. Not that Federer looked as though he had anything on his mind but getting back home to the family as soon as possible.

Playing his first tournament since Wimbledon, Federer certainly looked fit and fresh in beating Roberto Bautista Agut in his opener in just 70 minutes. Federer’s six previous titles in Cincinnati bear testament to his love for these fast courts, and he used that pace to attack his opponent’s serve in the most jaw-dropping fashion. Time and again he raced to the service line to pick off a serve and throw his opponent out of rhythm—and he used the same tactic at key points against the No15 seed Kevin Anderson.

The tall South African with a big game to match should, in theory, also thrive on Ohio’s fast courts, but Federer prevented him ever settling on serve or in rallies.

In 21 minutes, a casual Federer, whose unshaven jaw suggested he had dropped in for a knock-up rather than to contest a place in the quarter-final, was 6-1 up. He soon led 2-0 in the second, too, before Anderson won another game. But Federer was not about to let his opponent build any momentum, and he dampened Anderson’s firepower with some scintillating rallies that showcased his foot-speed, forehand—and of course his overhead prowess.

Already up 5-1, Federer refused to concede another game, pressing Anderson through five deuces before breaking for the match, 6-1, after just 55 minutes—his fastest match in what is now a tally of 39 wins as Cincinnati.

Boasting 23 winners to only eight errors, Federer paused just long enough to admit to losing the two practice sets he played against Anderson before the tournament, and that he had lost his first two matches to Lopez—as juniors!

In fairness, Lopez has pressed Federer hard in a number of best-of-three encounters, but he still stands at 0-11.

Across on Court 3, a surprisingly low-key venue for such a mouth-watering match—Murray was the latest top-four player to find himself in a three-set battle. Indeed by the time this one concluded, not only had Lopez beaten Nadal but Federer was a set up against Anderson.

And it looked for all the world as though the exciting Dimitrov had regained the top-10 form that had been missing for so much of the season.

Like Djokovic, Murray looked weary when he took to court fewer than 20 hours after his late-night, rain-delayed opening match. And Murray has won more matches this year than any other player. So an aggressive Dimitrov pounced for an opening break and held to take the first set, 6-4.

He then did the same in the second set before Murray dug in to break back and level at 4-4. And come the tie-break, Murray found his most resilient tennis to pressure Dimitrov into repeated errors, including a final double fault, to level the match, 7-6(3).

Dimitrov looked deflated, and the errors continued to flow—including an opening double fault and an immediate break. But from 0-2 down, he turned on the aggression again with some dazzling rallies, and roared in delight after sealing his fifth straight game, 5-2.

Even after Murray broke back, Dimitrov had the match on his racket, and played some hyper-aggressive points to earn match-point—only to strike a Murray second-serve long—and he would not get another chance. Murray broke again and served it out, 7-5.

It had taken Murray almost three hours, and within 18 more, he would be back on court against another stylish, single-handed shot-maker, Gasquet.

The Frenchman had earlier beaten No7 seed Cilic, 7-5, 6-3, while, in the top half of the draw, Dolgopolov beat Jerzy Janowicz, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, and will play Berdych, who took just 51 minutes to beat Tommy Robredo, 6-0, 6-1.

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