Dramatic, shifting summer winds blew through tennis last week with the news that Serena Williams will retire and Rafael Nadal is healthy, fit and entered in the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. Also, Nick Kyrgios is continuing to play wickedly well after a decent run to the quarterfinals in Montreal.
Tennis feels like a different world with Serena’s time coming to an end after the US Open. This is likely the second-to-last pro tournament she will ever play. As the luck of the draw would have it, a massively intriguing tilt has popped up in the first round. The 23-time Grand Slam Champion and GOAT will take on 2021 US Open Champion Emma Raducanu, whose marketability has commanded the interest of the tennis world in a way few have since the Williams sisters hit the scene, with the possible exception of Maria Sharapova.
Cincinnati Women’s Draw Preview
Separated by 21 years, Williams and Raducanu will clash in a contest no one dares predict. Isn’t tennis great? Williams has struggled to regain form and speed since a string of injuries. Saying she wants to focus on having another child as well as her business interests, Serena still is having trouble with the concept of good-bye. She doesn’t really want to do it. On the other hand, Raducanu hasn’t regained form whatsoever since tearing through the US Open like she owned the place. Millions in endorsements followed. A gaggle of coaches have come and gone, and Emma is staring at some low-hanging storm clouds in the form of a plummeting ranking if she doesn’t defend her US Open points. She needs form, and she needs it now.
These are two aggressive players. Serena has so much more experience in all parts of the game, most especially in the aspects of serve and net play. Emma has struggled with her timing on the baseline, but she seems to play well when everyone has counted her out. I give the nudge to Williams, but it might not be easy. If she does come through, she would face either the same-gen Kaia Kanepi or her old rival Victoria Azarenka. Beyond that waits potentially Bianca Andreescu who beat Serena in the final of the 2019 US Open. We should all be so lucky if these matchups occur.
The other sections seem almost incidental. World number one Iga Swiatek sits atop the draw, as she always does these days. An interesting matchup in this quarter would be Garbine Muguruza, who won here in 2017 potentially facing this year’s Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina. The next quarter features Paula Badosa and Ons Jabeur who stand unproven on this faster hard court. Belinda Bencic and Simona Halep are better bets to come through. Halep has been slowly and steadily finding her feet again after a sluggish two years.
The bottom quarter is by far the weakest. Aryna Sabalenka should do well, based on her massive serve, but she has yet to fully recover from her yips and lost to Coco Gauff in Toronto. Daria Kasatkina just won in Silicon Valley, but she has to play Amanda Anisimova in the first round. Laylah Fernandez and Shelby Rogers would be dark horse picks to come through that section.
My players to watch:
QF: Rogers, Pegula, Halep, Swiatek
SF: Halep, Pegula
Cincinnati Men’s Draw
Nadal has what looks to be a fairly easy ride until chalk would have him meeting Felix Auger-Aliassime in the quarterfinals. Seeded #2, Rafa won Cincinnati in 2013. Not only is he looking to play himself into match shape for the US Open, Nadal also has an outside shot at becoming number one in the world again. But he needs some things to fall his way. Daniil Medvedev needs to lose before the quarterfinals, and Nadal would need to win the tournament. It’s a longshot and probably something he’s not focused on, since Cincinnati is his first tournament back since having to withdraw from Wimbledon.
As the number one seed, Medvedev has a major sticky wicket on his hands. Nobody wants to play Botic Van de Zandschulp or serve-and-volley guy Maxime Cressey (don’t forget Meddy’s infamous awkward match at this year’s Australian Open). Hot American Tommy Paul and street-fighter Jenson Brooksby are all in this section of the draw. Taylor Fritz and Andrey Rublev loom in this quarter as well. And let’s not forget the aforementioned Kyrgios who just beat Medvedev in Canada. Daniil will have to fight to come through all that, but maybe knowing he could lose his number one ranking will motivate him.
How about hard-serving Stefanos Tsitsipas, Matteo Berrettini and Hubert Hurkacz all in one section? These are three of my favorite elites to pick in tournaments because of their reliable serves. I’m going to go with Stef to come through only because Hubie went deep in Montreal and might be weary.
The final section features Casper Ruud, who it seems refuses to stop being rock solid ever. Watching him play might be like “watching paint dry” as Kyrgios once said, but it’s awfully high-quality paint. He awaits Carlos Alcaraz at the bottom of this section, and minus lefty Cam Norrie throwing a wrench, I do believe this will be the quarterfinal in a re-match of this year’s Miami Open final.
My players to watch:
QF: Medvedev, Tsitsipas, Alcaraz, Nadal
SF: Medvedev, Nadal