The picks at Cincinnati: Friday, August 18

Karolina Muchova

There has been a lot of rain, in Cincinnati, and also, the same thing last week in Canada. It is odd in  August, during the heat. Every year, the players pull out when they are injured, because they played so many matches, on the clay, at Roland Garros, on the grass, at Wimbledon, and now they started to play on the hardcourts. It can be brutal. However, some of the excellent players can control what they are doing, and not play every second. Many of the Slam winners have learned within him or her bodies, just like Novak Djokovic and Iga Swiatek, for the most part. They are playing this week in Ohio. They can actually win the event. Here are four matches on Friday.

Karolina Muchova  over Marie Bouzkova
Believe it or not,   Swiatek  edged Muchova in Montreal a week ago. It was darn close, so right now, if the excellent doubles player can play wonderfully, the No. 17 can go very deep at the tournament. She did reach into the final at Roland Garros, so when she is healthy, she can beat anyone. The other Czech, Bouzkova, is very decent, and she does have some interesting defense, point to point, but she has yet to be in the top 20. Maybe she will do it, eventually, but not now. Muchova will win it in straight sets, around 6-4, 6-3.

Carlos Alcaraz, over Max Purcell
Alcaraz edged Tommy Paul 6-4 in the third set. He could have lost, as in the second set tiebreaker, he threw so many errors, which is very unusual. But the young Spaniard re- composed, and he was more consistent. When he attacks, he can crush the ball. Purcell is a very good doubles player, but currently, he is trying to hit some bigger shots, in the singles. However, he did have a very good year in the singles, the small ones, so it looks like his forehand and his backhand are stronger. Yet Alcaraz will push him back, into the wall, and he will win it in two sets.

Alexander Zverev over Adrian Mannarino
The German had a terrific match on Thursday when he beat Daniil Medvedev in three, brutal sets. Yes, Zverev can be super  steady, and now he can really mix it up. As he said, “But at the end of the day I did what I had to do. I kind of fought it out and I’m happy to be sitting here as winner.” He can belt it, into the corners, but as he has said, he still is not 100 percent after he became hurt last year. Mannarino plays almost everyday, and he is older, but he just keeps moving on, on the court, consistently. He does like to mix it up, and change it around, but on Friday,  Zverev will be tired, but he will go for it, early. Zverev will win it in three sets, 6-4.

Iga Swiatek over Marketa Vondrousova
Almost once a month, Swiatek  can turn it on, and then she can rush forward, to hit some massive shots. His first serve is very big, and she can return and hit it very deep. Yes, though, she can become frustrated, and over hit, it. Vondrousova is skill full, and she can aggrieve. Her backhand is powerful, and her forehand is improving a lot.  She can upset Swiatek, as long as she can be super consistent, and really go for it, into the corners. However, Swiatek is on fire again, so she will win it in three sets, 6-3.

Emma Raducanu: ‘I’m just trying to stay on one path’

Emma Raducanu
Mal Taam/MALTphoto

Emma Raducanu might be the US Open champion again, if she manages to clean it up on court. On Tuesday, she easily beat Serena Williams in Cincinnati, 6-4, 6-0. She was injured — and many people have in the summer — but currently, she is getting better. The next day, she blew out Vika Azarena, 6-0, 6-2, another Grand Slam champion.

Over that last 11 months, that might have seemed impossible, but she was so impressive in this tournament.

When Raducanu is on, she can be very fast, and she can also bang the ball. Her first serve is very big, and her return is muscular.
Against Serena, she was so excited to take her down, even though she thinks that she is the best player ever.

“I think that a big part of the match today was definitely the mental side, to not be intimidated by all her achievements. That was what I was focusing the most on, really present and thinking of my game, thinking of what I needed to do. Physically I held up pretty well” said Raducanu, who will face against Jessica Pegula next. “Like there were some longer exchanges, I held up well and I scrapped. I made her work. I feel good right now.”

She was also against Azarenka, who can crunch her forehand and her backhand, but her serve is still marginal. Plus, Azarenka is not a super quick runner. However, Raducanu can sprint.

The brit does want to win at Cincinnati or go deep. Still, on the mind of this 19-year-old was her run to US Open glory.

“I think that at this level, you play anyone, it’s a really difficult match. Each of those wins kind of build confidence regardless of the level you’re playing, every single win counts,” she said. “But, of course, this one more so, because you’re playing like the greatest. But I’m not trying to get too high or too low right now. I’m just trying to stay on one path and trajectory, because I know like I kind of feel like I have been on both ends of that, and, yeah, I’m just happy, proud of myself, but just moving on.”

By the way, she wants to play Simona Halep – that would be their first matchup – because “I think she all around is like, for me, all around the most complete player. She moves extremely well. She’s aggressive. She can defend. She makes you work so hard for every point. Could be like a slow, painful like she gets you (smiling).”

Karolina Pliskova lost today. Yesterday, she said that “I’m 30 and I’m still like here. I don’t really want to like quit at the moment. So, I think I just want to see how it’s gonna go like this year, next year. Then I will make decision.” She still does like playing tennis, so maybe she can run up at the US Open. She reached the final in 2016.

Taylor Fritz stepped on Nick Kyrgios in two sets. Kyrgios wants to rest, and his body wore down, but the American played terrific today. He is No. 13, and he has been saying that he wants to be in the top 10 ASAP. Well, then he can do it this week, as long as he will not freeze up.

Where did Ben Shelton come from? His dad, Bryan, also played in the tour, winning Newport, twice. The 19-year-old Ben just upset Casper Ruud, so he must be very good, already. John Isner had two very good wins, beating the No. 10 Hubert
Hurkacz. The 37-year-old may not win Cincinnati, but if he can return better than he usually does, Mr. Ace may go further.

Medvedev on verge of Grand Slam success

Daniil Medevdev

Daniil Medvedev totally crushed Pablo Carreno Busta on Friday in Cincinnati. While he can be irritable, still, on court, he is now very patient. He has a huge serve, he cracks his forehand and he whacks his backhand. Three years ago, he wasn’t great at the net, and also, he wasn’t more thoughtful when he returns. But, week after week, when he continued to practice, he became more smarter in the matches. 

Medvedev has already captured big events, winning the ATP 1000’s such as four of them, including Canada. If he wins it in Ohio, when he gets to the US Open, then he will have a real shot to win to grab a Grand Slam.

For him, fortunately, he will be right there. The injured Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer pulled out and they are done for the rest of the year, as they are seriously hurt. They are both very popular, and for the younger players, the fans have to watch them and see if they like Medvedev. 

That is up to them, but the Russian is coming very strong. Listen to American, Reilly Opelka, who lost against Medvedev.

 “He’s a great returner. Medvedev is top three best returners in the world, you could say,” Opelka said. “I’d say especially for a big guy, maybe he’s No.2 behind Novak [Djokovic] for like a server like myself, because he’s long. He can afford to stand far back, because he’s lanky. He has a really long reach. He’s got a good wingspan. His grips are kind of traditional so he’s able to play, handle the ball well from back there, from that far back, because he’s pretty Eastern on his forehand. He’s fast. He’s a good athlete. He’s able to get out of the corners quick, he’s able to play deep back in the corner to me. It’s tough.” 

Medvedev blew out John Isner 6-2 6-2. Isner has put together millions of aces. But the Russian stepped in and he returned very smart, where it was going.

Andrey Rublev, who has reached the semis this weekend, is very potent & assured. Can he win an ATP 1000 sometime? He is ranked No. 7, but if he wants to be in the top 5, he has to step it up… 

Sebastian Korda can look pretty good, but the American got hurt so he had to pull out this week. If he can get healthy, he should have a at least one fantastic match in Flushing Meadows.

Today, and I am guessing, but here are five U.S. men can win at least one matches, and go to the fifth setters: Frances Tiafoe, Jenson Brooksby, Taylor Fritz, Brandon Nakashima and Mackenzie McDonald.

Angie Kerber: ‘I fought my way through’

Angela Kerber

At times, the former No.1 Angie Kerber has been rock solid. The German would run to the net when she really had to. But what she really liked was to stay in the backcourt and knock it back forever. Her legs were super strong, she can spin it, or flatten it out. She would battle, and she wouldn’t give up.

When she was No. 1, she had an incredible confidence. However, that cannot stay forever. That is very rare for everyone.

A few years ago, Kerber fled mentally. She won three Grand Slams, winning the 2016 Australian Open and the US Open, and also 2018 Wimbledon. She was clearly the No. 1 player on the planet. But then, she began to slide.

Yes, here and there, she was slightly injured, but not much. She just couldn’t think anymore. She was very frustrated.

Not any more. She  woke up in Cinncinnati, took down Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 6-2 7-5 in the round of 16 and edged Elena Svitolina, 7-5 2-6 6-4 on Wednesday. All of sudden, she realized that she can come back and beat every player.

“That means a lot to me, she’s such a great player. She played great,” said Kerber about Svitolina: “I fought my way through, it was important to stay in the match after the second set and play point by point.”

She won Bad Homburg this year. Then the 33-year-old reached the semis at Wimbledon, beating two very young and excellent players, Coco Gauff and Karolina Muchova.

Maybe she can win it this week, in Ohio, or even the US Open. She wants it, especially to get the trophy in Flushing Meadow. But really, it is all about being more aggressive, here and there. She can be steady, but when she sees a real chance, she can leap on the ball and crush it.

Why is Svitolina so frustrated? After she lost, she smashed her racket. Ouch…

It has been a difficult year for Naomi Osaka, who has not been happy at all. She has said that she can be depressed. A lot of people throughout the world are depressed. So, if you can, battle. She did that on court on Wednesday when she edged Gauff, 4-6 6-3 6-4. When she won, on the match point, she nailed it with an ace. She is so darn good when she is on.
How about Karolina Muchova who beat the No.7 seed Bianca Andreescu 6-4, 6-2? True enough, it is the Czech’s fifth victory over a Top-10 player, including Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty. On Monday, Muchova beat Johanna Konta, and early in February, Muchova reached the Australian Open semifinals beating Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty  before going down to Jennifer Brady. Yes, Muchova can be very good, but she can also check out. But, the older she gets, she has become more serene.

Pressure, already in “Cincinnati”

Stefanos Tsitsipas

We would think that the big smasher Stefanos Tsitsipas can reach up into the sky, and then, smash his overhead near the lines. The Greek blew out the former top 5 player Kevin Anderson 6-1, 6-3. That was very surprising, not because Anderson lost, but because the tall South African usually holds all the time. He has two gigantic serves. But, in this match at the Western & Southern Open (being played at the US Open site), Anderson was way off, while Tsitsipas was super confident.

Anderson has been around for many years, and over the next couple months, he will be back, knocking out some phenomenal players. He is aging, but he does focus, and he just wants to play. He is amongst the players who are addicted to tennis.

Two years ago many people did not know who Tsitsipas was. Well, now, many folks have watched him, and they can see that his punching forehand, his heavy backhand and his high-bouncing serves, can rattle the cage. Tsitsipas does smile, and he can sprint, and touch the lines.

He will play against American John Isner today in the last match. Isner was very thrilled that he could play again at a real tournament. Another guy with a very huge first serve, Isner beat Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets. He has put together some terrific years on hard courts. He recently said that he can go super deep at Western & Southern Open and the US Open. During press conferences, he can be enthusiastic, but when he loses, he was dreadful. Either way, to return to the top 20, he has to be patient and think about his approach in the next few points He has to be thoughtful and try to push Tsitsipas with a lot of variety. It should be a thrilling match.

Belgian David Goffin had a solid day, beating the grinder Borna Coric in two tough sets. Goffin has a lot of variety. To reach the top 10, he must swing harder. Neither Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer are here, so in this tournament, there are a solid 10 guys who can win this title. It’s a long way to go but the winner can jump in the ocean and celebrate.

Steady, powerful Djokovic downs Federer to win Cincinnati

So many peo­ple love Roger Federer: his game, his personality and his influence. But on Sunday in Cincinnati, he was off, while Novak Djokovic was totally locked in. He won 6-4, 6-4, hitting with so much depth, with aggression and thoughtfulness.

Federer had held 100 holds, but early in the first set, the Serbian pushed him back, cracked it and finally, the Swiss was broken. From right then, you knew that Djokovic would continue to mix it up, back and forth, nailing his backhand and hustling. Now the former No. 1 is totally back, and while on Monday, he will “only” be ranked No. 6. The three favorites at the US Open will be Djokovic, Federer and of course, Rafa Nadal, who just won Toronto. Perhaps those three players are the best players, ever. That should be a hell of a match in Flushing in a week’s time.

Djokovic is not serving as well as he could, and sometimes, he gets angry. He stopped playing over most of the end of last year because he was heavily injured. During the first five months in 2018, he was hesitating and missing. He grew frustrated and ticked off. But every day, he kept pushing, battling, changing and practicing. At the beginning of July, he was finally healthy and he won Wimbledon, edging Nadal 8-6 in the fifth in the semis and besting Kevin Anderson in the final
This week in Cincy he was not perfect, but he would re-boot. He won three setters over Grigor Dimintrov, Milos Raonic and Marin Cilic. In the final, he was almost perfect, with his high, spinning forehand and his powerful backhand. He is certainly back and after he won, he smiled very wide.

“This seems to be a bit unreal, to be honest, to be back at this level,” Djokovic said. 
Bertens’ surprise jump to the title
Who would have thought that Kiki Bertens would win this event? Sure, she improved a lot this year, but she’s 26 years old, so she was not a top 15 player for a decade. Now she is, beating the No. 1 Simon Halep 2-6, 7-6(6), 6-2 in the Cincy final. She is now ranked No. 13, and should go higher in the next month.

Halep had a match point in the second-set tiebreak, but she hesitated and hit it soft. She missed and then Bertens flew away. She wasn’t tired at all, while Halep was worn out. She won Montreal, and she was so close to winning big titles back-to-back, but she slipped, with 13 unforced errors in the third. Halep gave Bertens a chance to pull away.

“I had a match (point), so I was there,” Halep said. “I didn’t take my chance. In the third set, I was empty and I couldn’t fight anymore I need a little bit of rest because I’m exhausted,” Halep said. “But I also take the positive from these two weeks. It’s a great confidence (boost).”
Bertens has been very steady, but until this season, she rarely went for winners. This time, she was hitting close to the lines, spinning it around, changing things and focusing. That is the biggest tournament she/s won, besting Caro Wozniacki, Anett Kontaveit, Elena Svitolina, Petra Kvitova and then upsetting Halep. 

Bertens almost stopped playing in November and maybe ever quitting tennis, but she decided that she would try extra hard and be patient. And now, she is more calm, patient and better.

“You can achieve everything. Like, if you really work hard, a lot of things are possible. I think you see that with me,” Bertens said. “I would have never believed, that I would have come so far, but it is still happening.”

Federer overcomes Wawrinka: ‘I was clear with my game plan’

The 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer was angry. In the first tiebreak, he couldn’t swing the right way and Stan Wawrinka was on top of it. The Swiss Wawrinka was cracking the ball, deep and down the line.  Wawrinka won the first set tiebreak 7-6. in t

In the second set, Federer began to concentrate, move forward and he was pretty steady.
In the second-set tiebreak, the three-time Grand Slam winner Wawrinka blinked just a little bit, he missed a couple key swings, and all of a sudden, they were tied, as Federer took the second set 7-6 (6).
Then the rain came, in Cincinnati — again — and the thunder storm was gigantic. Eventually, more or less at midnight, they came back on court. Federer was even more self-assured, and Wawrinka was confused. He smashed his rackets on the ground.

Federer won 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-2 and he will play on Saturday. They are very good friends, but clearly, as Stan has said, “I can beat him on occasion, but Roger is better than me.”

“I got my energy back for the third set, a momentum shift was good for me. It was also good that I was serving first,” Federer said. “I played a cleaner third set. I was clear with my game plan.”

Federer will face David Goffin at night, while in the afternoon, Novak Djokovic will play Marin Cilic.
The Women
Every day, Aryna Sabalenka is getting substantial better. The 20-yearz-old has already reached the semis, and win or lose, at the US Open, she will be seeded for the first time. She is a big, strong player. Assuming she stays healthy, she will crack the top 10 next year and after that, she will charge even further. ..
By the way, she beat Madison Keys. The American is hurt a lot and she is hoping that she will feel healthy at the USO. Last year, she reached into the final, but she lost easily to Sloane Stephens. Can Keys play consistent and not get so frustrated?  That is way up in the air…

Simona Halep is so thoughtful and poised. She won Montreal last week and although she must be a little bit tired, still, she runs and runs. On Friday, she beat Ash Barty and then Lesia Tsurenko in straight sets. If she wins Montreal and Cincy, back to back, that would be unreal. The true No. 1…

Once against, Petra Kvitova is into it, beating Elise Mertens in three sets. She rarely backs off and she is faster than she did years ago. Plus, the two-time Grand Slam champion focuses. She will face Kiki Bertens, who is pretty solid. It will be the battle of forehands and who wants it inside the lines.

Nadal wins Toronto, beating Tsitsipas

FROM TORONTO — Rafa Nadal keeps on battling, pushing himself, and he is always fighting. In the final here, he took down Stefanos Tsitsipas 6-2, 7-6(4). He has won 33 ATP Master Series, the most ever, eclipsing two of the other great competitors, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer.

We all know that he is very quick, and that he is very strong. For the most part, he is pretty efficient with his first serve and his second serve. Ten years ago, he didn’t like coming into the net. But now, he can move forward and put it away, with his forehand and backhand. He bends down low and scoops it up. He can slice, or flatten it out.
Just like Federer and Djokovic, Nadal has improved over the past two years. They keep working and improving, even though they are in the 30s.

The No. 1 can be dominant when he is locked in.

Five years ago, Nadal won 10 tournaments. He won Canada (over Milos Raonic), Cincy (over Federer in the quarters and John Isner in the final) and the US Open (over Djokovic). That was the best year, ever.

Today, not only did he defeat Tsitsipas , but he edged Marin Cilic 2-6 6-4 6-4 in the semis. It was very close, and during the first set, he thought that he had to change a few things in the second set, or he would be out of the tournament. But he began to serve pretty big and he moved it to the left, to the right and down the middle. His forehand was falling deep and bounced up pretty high. He mixed his backhand, and when he had a chance, when the tall Cilic had some second serves, he returned it deep.

Really, Cilic could have won the match and yes, he has won one Grand Slam at the 2014 US Open. Too often, he loses control. In the last game, Nadal cracked the ball, and Cilic made a couple pretty easy errors. Goodbye.

Later in the day on Sunday, Nadal announced he won’t play Cincinnati.

Here is what he said in his post-match press conference, as he was weighing his options: “For me personally it’s not the moment to think about that. For me just having this trophy with me means a lot. It’s a very important moment for me. I can’t answer the question (of whether to withdraw from Cincinnati). I need to come back to speak with my team, to speak with the people who are close to me and really make a decision about what is going on in the next week and the next couple of weeks.

“There is a tighter (schedule) too because we have the Davis Cup semifinals after the US Open. So, we need to think about the things that we can do or the things that about we can’t do, no? So, it’s all about the decisions. I only want to play. I want to be everywhere. I love this sport. I don’t like to miss events. But at some point, if I don’t stop for myself, my body stop me. So that’s the experience that I have.”

Tsitsipas’ makes his mark
Sure, the young players are coming up — gradually — but it could take them another year to win a Grand Slam.  

Tsitsipas is now 20 years old. He almost came from nowhere, but now the Greek is very close to reach the top 10 in the next months. His first serve is huge, he can slap his forehand and spin it way back in the court. His return is so-so, but hopefully he will learn to concentrate. When he happens to get into the net, he hesitates, but within a second, he composes himself and puts it away.

Everybody hurts, sometimes

It is August now, which is wonderful, because in the United States, it can be very sunny and warm. Almost everyone loves the summer. Who wouldn’t?

However, the players have played on court for six months. They have played on the hard courts, on clay, on grass. It’s taking a toll on some of the marquee players, who are resting their legs, arms, stomach, back and eyes. If you are very tired, then why not stop for a month? Many players, men and women, will continue to practice almost every day. For the entire year. That is very risky. 

The top men are pretty darn hurt. Stan Wawrinka announced he would not play Montreal, Cincinnati and defend his US Open title, due to a knee injury. The former No. 1 Novak Djokovic is done for the year. Andy Murray withdrew from the Rogers Cup in Montreal. The same goes with Marin Cilic. Only Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal will play Montreal, which is great, because they are the best two players ever. But, can they be healthy when the US Open begins in a month?

At Stanford, Maria Sharapova won a match, but the next day, her left arm was super sore, so she had to leave. She won’t play at Toronto, or maybe not in Cincy. She returned in April, and she really wanted to play again. On court, she looks pretty good. But immediately, her body froze and she couldn’t play on grass.

Her arm has to be 100 percent to play, or she will get hurt again and she won’t be able to win another Grand Slam. She is a great player, but Sharapova has figure out what is wrong with her health.

The two-time Slam champ Garbine Muguruza says she can be consistent and super powerful this summer on the hard courts. At this point, she’s the favorite at the USO. 

In Washington, Nick Kyrgios retired with a shoulder injury. He retires all the time. He is great to watch — when he is on — but he doesn’t take advice.

Milos Raonic versus Jack Sock should be a terrific contest. … Kevin Anderson is playing extremely well as he upset Dominic Thiem 7-6(7) in the 3rd. … Some pretty decent players are in Los Cabos, with Tomas Berdych and Sam Querrey.

CoCo Vandeweghe once reached the final in Stanford. Can she do it again? As long as she concentrates … We would assume that Petra Kvitova can win the tournament, but it will take a few weeks until she locks in again. 

Djokovic back on his beloved hard courts