The Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati set its roots 120 years ago at the Avondale Athletic Club, just 20 miles from its current home, and the players and fans still flock to a site that now boasts 17 hard courts and one of the most recognisable central arenas in tennis.
That it also heralds the final Major of the year, just a two-hour flight distant and less than a week later, makes it the perfect stop en route to New York. And thus, while it is not uncommon for the elite men to bypass the Canadian Open—especially if they have packed in plenty of matches during the oh-so-short span from Roland Garros to Wimbledon—seldom do they miss Cincinnati.
And such is the case this year. With final runs in Madrid, Rome and Wimbledon—winning two of them—and a semi run at Roland Garros, world No1 Novak Djokovic returns for the first time since mid-July, choosing instead to rest and recuperate.
Roger Federer, ranked No3, was the other half of that five-hour Wimbledon final, and he slotted in a title run in Halle after his semi finish at the French Open. Indeed, by the conclusion of the grass season, he had won more matches than anyone on the tour, 38-5, with Djokovic close behind on 35-6.
Yes, the two of them earned their family holidays, but would surely relish their return to Cincinnati.
Djokovic last year won the title to complete the set of nine Masters—the first man ever to do so. And he achieved it be beating seven-time champion Federer, who had beaten Djokovic in their previous Cincy meeting, the final in 2015.
The draw this year would determine whether they could again meet in the final, but with Federer in the top half, they may instead meet in the semis—though theirs proves to be a tough section. Not only do the in-form young seeds Karen Khachanov, Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas fall in the top half, so do unseeded threats such as—in the Djokovic quarter—Nick Kyrgios and Sam Querrey, and—in Federer’s quarter—Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, Matteo Berrettini, and Kyle Edmund.
And what about Nadal, who shook off the residue of a 12th title at the French Open and a semi finish at Wimbledon to take up the challenge of defending his Canadian Open title in Montreal?
In doing so, he not only overtook Federer in match-wins in 2019—up to 40-6 by reaching the semi-finals—and also took the Federer record of Masters match-wins, 379. Should Nadal reach the final—a highly probably scenario with his semi opponent forced to play the same day after rain washed out the Friday-night schedule—he will also ensure his No2 ranking over Federer, and also overtake the Swiss star’s record 50 Masters finals: Montreal would mark Nadal’s 51st.
As the 2013 Cincy champion has no points to defend at the Western and Southern Open, either, Nadal also looks assured of keeping the No2 seeding for the US Open.
The bigger question may be, which of the fast-rising young challengers could nab valuable Masters points in Cincinnati to push them into the top-eight seedings—a valuable line in the sand when it comes to a Major draw.
The jockeying for position during the hard-court run into New York has heated up, especially with the fine form of Khachanov and Medvedev taking them to the semis in Montreal and within touching distance of the top eight. The two 23-year-old Russians will both be vying with 20-year-old Stefanos Tstisipas and 22-year-old Alexander Zverev for those elite spots if they perform well in Cincinnati too.
A couple of key absentees in the shape of injured Kevin Anderson and Juan Martin del Potro, have also opened the way for a clutch of older men to edge their way upwards to career-high rankings. At age 32 and 31 respectively, Fabio Fognini and Roberto Bautista Agut are already inside the top dozen, have made the quarters in Montreal, and did not play in Cincinnati last year—though the other side of that coin is that neither has great records at the tournament either.
But eyes will surely be focused on the famous old rivalries between Djokovic, Nadal and Federer, and the exciting younger rivalries of the new generation of tall, talented and hungry players who are beginning to flex their muscles in the draws and the rankings.
Stop press: Two-time former champion Andy Murray, who has not played a singles tournament since undergoing hip surgery in January, has taken a wild card into the main draw. He has played only one Masters match since May 2017, and that was a first-round exit in Cincinnati last year.
For more on the form of players ahead of the US Open, check out the Montreal Masters preview.
Hard-court champions since Wimbledon
Alex de Minaur (Atlanta); Runner-up Fritz
Kyrgios (Washington 500); Runner-up Medvedev
Diego Schwartzman (Los Cabos); Runner-up Fritz
Nadal, Khachanov, Medvedev, Gael Monfils/Bautista Agut (SFs Montreal Masters)
Former champions in draw
Federer (seven), Djokovic (one, defending), Nadal (one), Grigor Dimitrov (one), Marin Cilic (one), Murray (two)
Milos Raonic, del Potro, Anderson
The draw: comprises 56, including seven qualifiers; 16 seeds; top eight have byes to second round
R2 Querrey or Pierre-Hugues Herbert
R3 First seed John Isner
QF Seeds are No8 Khachanov, No10 Fognini; Denis Shapovalov, Kyrgios also here
SF No3 Federer and No5 Tsitsipas are top seeds; Nikoloz Basilashvili, Medvedev, Wawrinka, Edmund also here
R2 Cristian Garin or Adrian Mannarino
R3 First seed David Goffin
QF Seeds are No12 Borna Coric, No6 Kei Nishikori; de Minaur also here
SF No4 Dominic Thiem, No7 Zverev are top seeds; Murray, Auger-Aliassime, Monfils also here
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge