Cincinnati Masters 2021: Former champ Murray cruises to Round 2 in 16th appearance
Wild-card Briton is in tough top quarter with Toronto champ Medvedev and Miami champ Hurkacz
With three former champions missing from this year’s Cincinnati Masters—defending champ and world No1 Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer—top seed and world No2 Daniil Medvedev will carry the favourite banner into an opening match against wild card Mackenzie McDonald.
The Russian, too, is a former winner of one of the oldest tournaments in the calendar, picking up the first of his four Masters titles there in 2019. The most recent victory came just two days ago at its North American sibling in Toronto, so he will hope to ease himself gradually into his tricky quarter of the draw.
That he finds himself in the same section as the man who beat him in Tokyo, Pablo Carreno Busta, the man who beat him at Wimbledon, Hubert Hurkacz, and the man who beat him in Miami, Roberto Bautista Agut, will surely cause a wry Russian smile. But an alternative quarter-final opponent comes in the shape of wild card Andy Murray, the Cincinnati champion in 2008 and 2011—and runner-up in 2016 too.
But what will be the form of the Briton playing in his first match since losing to Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon? After all, the 34-year-old has only played eight matches so far in 2021, as assorted injuries and a positive Covid test played havoc with his plans.
He had to bypass the Australian Open, picked up a groin injury after his brief return in February, and his ranking was too low for direct entry to the French Open. Returning on the grass of Queen’s he faced ultimate champion and current world No8 Matteo Berrettini in the second round, before coming through a typically gutsy five-set win in the second round of Wimbledon.
However, Murray was unable to build his competitive fitness after making the trip to the Tokyo Olympics, withdrawing from the singles draw with a thigh strain. So, it has been hard to anticipate just how he will play in Cincinnati.
But this has long been a special event for the Briton: the site of his first Masters appearance in 2005 as an 18 year old; the site of his first Masters title in 2008; and the first place he played after his hip surgery in 2019. It was also the first tournament he played in 2020, and yielded two of only three match-wins that year. Indeed, he has played Cincinnati more often than any other Masters or Major tournament—this is his 16th appearance.
Little wonder, then, that he relished his return:
“I have enjoyed playing here. It’s a great event. Yeah, I’m very thankful they gave me the opportunity, but I have done some good things for their event over the years, too.”
He also talked ahead of the tournament about his frustrating Olympics.
“Obviously the Olympics was a great experience, but it was tough because I felt like I had built up some sort of momentum during Wimbledon. I was very disappointed at how it ended…
“Since then I have been back and practising and building up. We were potentially going to go to Canada, but just felt like maybe needed to have a few more days of rehab to make sure the quad was really fine and recovered before starting to play again.
“So got here nice and early on the Monday and have just been preparing since then… I feel good again, but as I said earlier in the year, I can’t say with any great certainty that I’m going to be feeling good for three, four months in a row.”
It started well, though, with Murray reversing the 2019 Cincinnati result against Richard Gasquet in an identical score, 6-4, 6-4. Playing a night match in front of a vocal and enthusiastic crowd, Murray drew cheers as he notched up 38 winners, moving well, and finding some classic Murray backhand cross-court strikes and drop shots.
He broke first, 4-2, only to be broken to love as he served for the set. Gasquet is a classy player with a creative single-handed backhand and great variety of spin and angle. However, Murray quickly regrouped and broke again, 6-4.
It took just one break in the second set to seal the match, 6-4, and set himself an even tougher test against either Hubert Hurkacz—champion in Miami and semi-finalist at Wimbledon—or the fast-improving 22-year-old Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, who had an outstanding clay season this year to rise to a career high 34.
Yes, there is no getting away from it: This Medvedev quarter is a tough one. And realistically, it is likely to be among the contemporaries of the Russian that the strong runs come. Just one man among the top eight seeds is ranked over 25, and that is No7 seed Carreno Busta, and nine of the 16 seeds are younger than 25-year-old Medvedev himself.
Another measure of the strength of the opposition, even without the ‘big three’, can be found among those who just missed out on a seeding: former champion Grigor Dimitrov—also in Medvedev’s segment; Gael Monfils, John Isner and Aslan Karatsev, who sit in between No4 seed Rublev and No6 seed Shapovalov; and Reilly Opelka and Fabio Fognini, who are in the Casper Ruud/Alexander Zverev quarter.
At the bottom of the draw, No2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, a semi-finalist last year, and with his first Masters title from Monte-Carlo in May, should ease to the quarters, but there he could face one of a number of men: No5 seed Berrettini, No12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime or the dangerous non-seed, Karen Khachanov, silver medallist in Tokyo.
Britons in draw
· Murray beat Gasquet in R1, 6-4, 6-4
· Dan Evans was beaten by No10 seed Diego Schwartzman, 2-6, 6-4, 3-6
· Cameron Norrie takes on John Isner on Grandstand at around 6pm BST
· Heather Watson beat Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, in R1: Plays world No1 Ash Barty after Norrie/Isner