Cincinnati Masters 2022: Medvedev affirms No1 status with Fritz win to reach semis

Norrie assured of No10 ahead of Alcaraz test, but Spaniard could nab No2 with Cincy title

Daniil Medvedev
Daniil Medvedev (Photo: Leonard Zhukovsky / depositphotos.com)

This close to the last Major of the year, the US Open, a few rankings spots either up or down can make a real difference.

Take Andrey Rublev, who was ranked among the top eight at the start of the Cincinnati Masters, meaning he could not face a higher ranked player at the Open before the quarter-finals. His loss in the third round would see him drop outside the top-10 for the first time in almost two years.

In contrast, take Felix Auger-Aliassime and Taylor Fritz. Their quarter-final runs had edged them into career-high territory. The former was already there, at No8, though if he failed to make the semis, either Fritz—currently at No12—or No11 Cameron Norrie could overtake him if they won the title. And each of those two men had already won a North American Masters: Fritz was reigning Indian Wells champion, Norrie had the same title in 2021.

However, Briton Norrie, who ended compatriot Andy Murray’s campaign, now had to take on one of the players of the year, Carlos Alcaraz.

The remarkable 19-year-old Spaniard came through qualifying in Cincinnati last year, only to lose in the first round of the main draw. This year, Alcaraz was now targeting his third Masters title, having won both Miami and Madrid—two of four 2022 titles from six finals—and his 44-8 run through the year so far had already taken him to No4 for the first time.

In Cincinnati, he had become the youngest quarter-finalist since Murray in 2006, and aimed to become the third-youngest semi-finalist, finalist and champion in the Open Era.

Even more significant for the Alcaraz scenario, current world No2 Alexander Zverev remained absent as he recovered from the ankle injury he sustained at Roland Garros, and No3 Rafael Nadal, playing for the first time since his ab injury during the quarters at Wimbledon, lost his opening match in Cincinnati.

All of which opened the door for Alcaraz to claim the No2 ranking should he go on to win the title.

At the other extreme in the Cincinnati quarters, 25-year-old Borna Coric could earn himself a place in the main draw of the US Open courtesy of his outstanding run this week, under a protected ranking.

Already up 54 places to break back into the top 100, the former top-12 player was showing a return of the precocious talent that twice saw him beat Nadal as a teenager, and he beat Nadal for a third time this week, followed by No15 seed Roberto Bautista Agut.

It was a welcome return to form for the young Croat who had his early successes hit by knee and shoulder surgery, plus assorted back and abdominal injuries. However, he would have his work cut out against 22-year-old Augur-Aliassime. But while the Canadian, who scored a confidence-boosting win from a set and two match-points down against Jannik Sinner, would hope to consolidate that career-high No8, he could not overtake fellow quarter-finalist Stefanos Tsitsipas, even if he won the title.

Incidentally, Tsitsipas would take on veteran American John Isner, who began the tournament ranked 50 but could, with the title, enjoy a seeding at the US Open. Not only was he the oldest of the eight quarter-finalists, he was more than 11 years older than the next man by age: Norrie and top seed Medvedev are both 26.

And what of that top seed, the man who needed to reach the quarters to be assured of retaining the top rank at the US Open, or see Nadal fail to win the title? Both options had been ticked off by the time he faced Fritz for the first time.

The tall Russian was a former Cincinnati champion, and was back in North America as the defending US Open champion, too, though wins had been harder to come by for Medvedev than in the last couple of years. After a final run at the Australian Open, he won his only title of 2022 in Los Cabos, but then lost in the first round of the Montreal Masters. Meanwhile, Fritz had been quietly putting together one of his best seasons, especially on grass, and this was his third Masters quarter-final of the year.

What is more, Medvedev had some taping to his serving arm and another strip on his abdomen. And his serving in the early stages of the match was not his best. So the early games were tough, as both fended off deuce on serve, and Medvedev saved an early break point.

Fritz had to battle through a six-plus minute fifth game to hold his advantage, 3-2, but then worked two more break chances. And just in time, Medvedev upped his serving level to hold. But he was under growing pressure, saving a set point at 4-5, and he then scattered errors to face two more set points at 5-6.

However, he held on, they headed to a tie-break, and when push came to shove, Fritz wavered. A double fault gave Medvedev the early lead in the tie-break, 4-1. Then a serve-and-volley winner, followed by an ace, gave the Russian five set points. Fritz thumped an error, and it cost the set, 7-6(1), after more than an hour.

Medvedev rode his momentum strongly into the second set to hold with ease, and then broke at the third attempt with a staggering 20-stroke rally.

By the time he led at 4-1, a few drops of rain had begun to fall, and they paused, and that seemed to help Fritz regroup: A love hold, 4-2. He forced Medvedev’s hand with a love hold for 5-3, but the top seed thumped down three winning serves and a forehand winner to seal his semi place, 6-3.

The loss stemmed Fritz’s rise into the top 10, and affirmed Norrie’s return to No10, win or lose against Alcaraz. That match, though, would be hours later, the last on Centre Court. For now, Medvedev was rightly happy with the quality of his tennis by the end of the match, though he admitted to Fritz that the American had probably deserved the first set.

He also affirmed that there were no problems with that taped arm: He simply liked the reassurance of the supporting tape, particularly in the humid-heavy conditions. So he could lay back, massage those long arms, and watch Tsitsipas and Isner battle it out to face him come Saturday.

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