Cincinnati Masters 2016 Preview: Murray, Kerber favourites to win, German could end Serena's record chances
Here's all you should expect from the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati this year.
We’ve only just seen the back of the tennis at Rio 2016. To say that Andy Murray has had an epic year would be a gross understatement – after winning his second Wimbledon title – and third Grand Slam overall - at the Championships this year, the Scot has taken back-to-back Olympic gold, winning top honours in the men's singles at Rio.
World No. 1 Serena Williams, who had been the favourite for both singles and doubles gold, withdrew from Cincinnati earlier this week with serious shoulder issues – the same issues that had caused her loss to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in the pair’s third round women’s singles match.
Gold medal winner Andy Murray is in Cincinnati – and he’s not the only one! Bronze medal winner Kei Nishikori and doubles gold winner Rafael Nadal are all in the United States of America for the action.
The Scot is the top seed in Cincinnati, and as a result will receive a first-round bye. He plays the winner of the match between big-serving Croat Ivo Karlovic and Argentina’s Juan Monaco. Either match should not be difficult for Murray, who has self-admittedly been having the “best year of [my] life.”
Seeded second is Stan Wawrinka, who was seeded fourth at the men’s singles in the Olympics and due to partner Martina Hingis in the mixed doubles after the withdrawal of Roger Federer, whom he was to partner in the men’s doubles. Wawrinka himself pulled out of the tournament only a few days prior to its commencement, with back injuries leaving him unable to play.
Also having received a first-round bye, he’ll now play Jared Donaldson in the pair’s maiden match against each other on the professional circuit. Given the Swiss’ more successful history, however, it is likely he will win this match.
It is Wimbledon runner-up and fourth seed Milos Raonic who looks to have a tough draw. He’ll play the winner of the Fabio Fognini-John Isner match next, which won’t be an easy one, despite Raonic’s current form. Fognini lost in the third round at the Olympic men’s singles to Andy Murray, but not before scalping a set off the Scot, and the fiery Italian has garnered the reputation of somewhat of a giant-killer.
He is in the same half as Andy Murray and Kei Nishikori, both in form and fresh off very strong Olympic performances, so a finals position may be difficult for the talented 25-year-old.
Isner, meanwhile, sat out the Olympics due to Zika fears, and although he has had good performances on the ATP Tour in the meantime, they have been in sparsely drawn tournaments. Fognini, meanwhile, has had good form in both singles and doubles, and his fair run at the Olympics will give him the competitive upper edge here. That said, Isner has had time to rest that Fognini has not.
Kei Nishikori will be up against Taylor Fritz or Mikhail Youzhny in the first round; 18-year-old Fritz has been in good form of late, but enters this tournament as a wildcard, while former top 10 player Youzhny enters as a qualifier. He’s fresh off his maiden Olympic medal – bronze, which he won in his match against Rafael Nadal, and so is the favourite for that match. He’s also had success on almost every surface he has played on this year, so it is looking like the Japanese ace should progress to the later rounds quite easily.
Serena Williams had been the top seed here at Cincinnati, but still struggling with the shoulder injury that ousted her from the Olympics, has chosen to sit out Cincinnati. That means second seed Angelique Kerber, who won the women’s singles silver at the Olympics this week, becomes the favourite to win. A win for the German also has the potential to make women’s tennis interesting – it will give her the #1 rank; Williams has held the ranking for 183 consecutive weeks, the second best of all time behind Steffi Graf, who held it for 186 consecutive weeks.
As it stands, Kerber looks to gain the top ranking for the first time in her career. If she does, it will be a well-deserved title for the 29-year-old, who has performed consistently all through 2016. After winning her maiden Grand Slam title at the Australian Open this year with a defeat of World No. 1 and favourite Serena Williams, Kerber may not have had a stellar time on the WTA tour but has fired well at key tournaments – making the finals of Wimbledon against her old foe Williams, who went on to claim her 22nd Grand Slam title.
The women’s draw looks to be a relatively easy one for Kerber, with a number of the top 10 seeds there unable to perform at recent tournaments or at the Olympics; French Open champion Garbine Muguruza, and Polish 5th seed Agnieszka Radwanska both had lackluster performances in Rio, although a well-rested Belinda Bencic could be a wily competitor for the German. Bencic, Switzerland’s best hope at the women’s singles there, also sat out the Olympics with injury.
Although Switzerland’s highest-ranked player, Timea Bacszinsky, is seeded 12th here, she is fresh off winning doubles silver at the Olympics with Martina Hingis, and had a couple of strong semi-final finishes at WTA Premier events that will stand her in good stead going into Cincinnati.
Also a big competitor is Simona Halep. The Romanian World No. 4 was not part of the Olympics, but won the title in Montreal just prior. And providing equal fight to Kerber will be the powerful Italian Roberta Vinci, who has come to be known most for her upset of Serena Williams at the semi-finals of the US Open in 2015. Vinci and compatriot Fabio Fognini did well at the Olympics recently, and will be upbeat at the tournament here.
It looks likely that Kerber, who has been able to hold her nerve at crucial moments, will win this – giving her the World No. 1 rank and ending Williams’ chance at breaking the all-time World No. 1 record.