Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer vie for historic Cincinnati win
Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are both eyeing their own slice of history ahead of Cincinnati Masters
The Cincinnati Masters is one of the oldest and biggest tennis tournaments in the world.
Dating back to 1899, it brings together the ATP Masters tour and the WTA Premier tour in one grand event that last year drew almost 200,000 fans—some achievement, sandwiched as it is between the Canadian Open and the US Open with barely time to draw breath.
So tough is this North American swing that it has been even more rare to ‘do the double’ in Canada and Ohio than it has been to win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back. Andre Agassi, Pat Rafter and Andy Roddick managed it once apiece, since when only Rafael Nadal has done so, in 2013.
Difficult as it has been—and perhaps because it IS such a challenge—this doubly tough achievement has been a good predictor of US Open success. Rafter, Roddick and Nadal each went on to win the final Grand Slam of the year.
With the Rogers Cup in Montreal still under way, it may be premature to look at such statistics—except that some very big records and very significant achievements are up for grabs in Cincinnati, not least for the world No1 Novak Djokovic.
Already a three-time champion in Canada, the remarkable Serb has again reached the final to extend his Masters streak to 30 matches, a streak dating back to Paris 2014, and he is favourite to extend that run to a record-equalling fifth Masters title of season (a record set by himself in 2011 and matched by Nadal in 2013) and a record-equalling 31 match-winning streak (again, his own record).
So Cincinnati represents the chance for Djokovic to make still more history, the chance to be the first ever to win six Masters in a single season, but there is a bigger record at stake, too. Should he win Cincinnati—and he has been runner-up four times—he would become the only man to have won all nine Masters. And that warrants a title all of its own: the Career Golden Masters.
However Djokovic is not the only man with ambitions for a title that would mark a new entry in the record books. Roger Federer last year won his sixth Cincinnati title—a record—and a seventh title would make him the only man aside from Nadal to win seven times at the same Masters.
Last year, Federer came within a match of the Canada-Ohio double: He reached the Toronto final despite playing consecutive midnight matches in the run-up to Sunday afternoon. Perhaps that is what prompted him to withdraw from Montreal this year and set his 34-year-old body’s sights on Cincinnati and the US Open.
So it is certain that Federer will enter the strong, 56-man draw rather fresher than his chief rivals, and in particular Djokovic, who he has already faced four times this year, all of them finals. He beat the top seed in Dubai, but Djokovic won in Indian Wells, Rome and Wimbledon.
Meanwhile, although Djokovic has also played in the doubles draw in Montreal, reaching the semi-finals, he has not played the late-night sessions that can suddenly catch up with the legs come Sunday afternoon. That card was dealt to a third man who has had an important milestone on his mind, Andy Murray.
The No2 seed, who won his late sessions on Friday and Saturday against defending champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and then No4 seed and Washington champion Kei Nishikori, certainly had the tougher route to the final, but such has been Murray’s application so far this year that he has won the same number of matches as Djokovic and stands second in the race to London.
Murray has also enjoyed a lot of success on North America’s hard courts. He has won twice in both Canada and Cincinnati—his first ever Masters came in the latter—and won his first Major at the US Open. However, it is not only titles that Murray is pursuing: By reaching the Montreal final, he is guaranteed to overtake the absent Federer to reclaim the No2 ranking on Monday.
And while that won’t affect the Cincinnati draw—where Murray and Federer have already fallen into the same half—and with another former champion Nadal—it could impact on the seedings at the US Open.
For Murray, who last reached No2 exactly two years ago on the back of his first Wimbledon title, it would represent a just reward for the intense schedule he has played since making his difficult return from back surgery at the end of 2013 and a dip outside the top 10 less than a year ago.
There is, of course, plenty of drama still to play out in Montreal between old adversaries Djokovic and Murray, but what are the prospects for them and Federer come Cincinnati? And just as big a question, will Nadal rediscover the scintillating form he showed in 2013 to claim a famous triple North American crown?
Currently at No9, Nadal will edge past the US Open’s defending champion Marin Cilic to reach a valuable No8 ranking tomorrow and, with no points to defend through this entire swing, he can certainly climb still further. So his declared target of reaching the World Tour Finals, which he missed after an illness- and injury-blighted end of last year, should be no problem at all. But make no mistake: This most determined of competitors would like nothing more than to start winning the big titles again.
Nadal has a tough route to the Cincinnati title, just as Federer does: The two oldest rivals in the draw could meet as early as the quarters, with Murray their likely semi-final hurdle, with finally, of course, Djokovic looming at the top of the draw.
In the Serb’s four previous Cincinnati finals, he has lost to Federer and Murray twice apiece. No doubt victory, should he finally seal that unique “golden” record, would be doubly sweet should he beat one of them this time around.
No2 seed Roger Federer: 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2014
No3 seed Andy Murray: 2008, 2011
No8 seed Rafael Nadal: 2013
Seed missing with injury
Mardy Fish (retirement year)
Significant players in qualifying draw
Benoit Paire, Bastad champion, ranked 39
Vasek Pospisil, Wimbledon quarters, ranked 45
Alexandr Dolgopolov, ranked 69
Thanasi Kokkinakis, ranked 76
No1 seed Djokovic draw
R2: big-hitting No46 Gilles Muller or qualifier.
R3: first seed No13 David Goffin, but also here are defending Rogers Cup champion Tsonga or No38 Fernando Verdasco.
QF: intense segment, with seeds No5 Stan Wawrinka (beat Djokovic in French Open final) or No10 Gilles Simon, plus dangerous floaters: fast-improving young Dominic Thiem, ranked No18, ace machine Ivo Karlovic, ranked 23, and rising star Borna Coric.
SF: seeds in ranking order are Nishikori, Tomas Berdych, Isner, Gael Monfils.
Matches to catch
R1 Tsonga vs Verdasco
R1 Simon vs Karlovic
QF Wawrinka vs Djokovic
No4 seed Nishikori draw
R2: challenging opener against winner between Bogota champ Bernard Tomic or Sergiy Stakhovsky
R3: first seed is Monfils
QF: packed segment topped by No6 seed Berdych and Atlanta champion and Montreal quarter-finalist Isner, but also containing unseeded No22-ranked Tommy Robredo, 32-ranked Sam Querrey, and 33-ranked Thomaz Bellucci.
SF: seeds in ranking order are Djokovic, Wawrinka, Simon, Goffin.
Matches to catch
R1: Janowicz vs Monfils
R1: Stakhovsky vs Tomic
R1: Isner vs Querrey
R1: Bellucci vs Vesely
R2: Tomic vs Nishikori
R3: Nishikori vs Monfils
No3 seed Murray draw
R2: could be emotional opener against retiring Fish if he beats in-form No19-ranked Viktor Troicki.
R3: first seed is Grigor Dimitrov, in poor form after split from Maria Sharapova and coach Roger Rasheed. Lukas Rosol is alternative.
QF: another segment full of questions: seeds are No7 Cilic and Wimbledon semi-finalist No12 Richard Gasquet, who missed Montreal with illness. But he has intriguing opener against Nick Kyrgios, who he beat in London and who continues to be the centre of controversy in Montreal. Also here, unseeded No28 Philiipp Kohlschreiber and No27 Fabio Fognini.
SF: seeds in ranking order are Federer, Nadal, Raonic, Anderson.
Matches to catch
R1: Gasquet vs Kyrgios
R1: Dimitrov vs Rosol
R1: Troicki vs Fish
R2: Fognini vs Gasquet
R3: Murray vs Dimitrov
No2 seed Federer draw
R2: a tough opener against either No20-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut or Istanbul finalist No31 Pablo Cuevas.
R3: first seed is Kevin Anderson, with a possible alternative in rising Jack Sock.
QF: standout is possible 34th meeting with Nadal, their first in 18 months. But Nadal may first face Milos Raonic, who beat the Spaniard in their last meeting in Indian Wells. Raonic has a tricky opener, however, against No21 Feliciano Lopez, then in-form Andreas Seppi or Adrian Mannarino in Round 2.
SF: seeds in ranking order are Murray, Cilic, Gasquet, Dimitrov.
Matches to catch
R1: Cuevas vs Bautista Agut
R1: Raonic vs Lopez
R3: Nadal vs Raonic
QF: Federer vs Nadal