ATP World Tour: Western and Southern Open Preview

ATP: Western and Southern Open Preview

Our tennis writer previews this week's Western and Southern Open set to take place Lindner Family Tennis Center from 14-20 August. 

The ATP Tour is definitely undergoing the first stages of what will ultimately be a changing of the guard in the sport as a whole. As much as journalists love to wax lyrical about the hegemony of the ‘Top 4’, and how that has elevated the game, one can almost taste the excitement that is being generated by the likes of Alex Zverev and Dominic Thiem. Denis Shapovalov’s inspirational run towards the semi-finals last week in Montreal generated the most excitement I have seen on court outside of the Rafa-Roger rivalry. And with so many of the top players absent with injury concerns prior to the US Open, this week could represent further opportunity for the young guns to shine.

Western & Southern Open | 14 August - 20 August | Lindner Family Tennis Center, Cincinnati

The late withdrawal of perennial threat and 7 time Cincinnati champion Roger Federer means that Rafa Nadal will reclaim the World Number One ranking regardless of what happens in the Queen City. Nadal will be aiming to atone for his shock exit at the hands of Ingénue Shapovalov in Montreal and reclaim the title he won in 2013. Dominic Thiem has battled on the American hard-courts while Alex Zverev is looking every bit the natural successor to the great generation that we have been lucky enough to enjoy.

The courts in Cincinnati are a server’s delight. The clay court specialists are generally rendered redundant by the fast courts, with around 82 percent of service games being held last year. So look for some of the American hardcourts to really come into their own this week. The absences of defending champion Marin Cilic and former champions Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will clearly open up the draw. Add to that the absence of Cincinnati King and compatriot Stan Wawrinka and you have the recipe for another potential Denis Shapovalov outlier.

Previous Winners
2016: Marin Cilic
2015: Roger Federer
2014: Roger Federer
2013: Rafael Nadal
2012: Roger Federer

The Favorites- Rafa Nadal and Alex Zverev
Clearly Rafa has to go in as favorite with the absence of longtime rival Federer. However, the Spaniard has been far from convincing on the American hardcourts, despite reaching the Miami Final earlier this year before falling to Federer. I usually actually like to look in his side of the draw in these events of late to spot a potential outlier. And this should prove even more likely on these lightning fast courts that will tend to reward the guys who flatten the ball out.

I was somewhat reticent to actually back Zverev in Montreal coming off the success he enjoyed in Washington. No man that young should be able to cope so magisterially with success. But the young German surprised me and resoundingly registered Federer to his first defeat in ages. He will be doubly emboldened by the absence of Roger in his half of the draw, although John Isner lurks menacingly in a potential third round match-up.

Guys to Watch this week- Sam Querrey and Jack Sock
The American Querrey is in the second quarter of the draw- which is clearly the weakest. Kei Nishikori’s withdrawal has left Dominic Thiem as the leading player in this section. His poor form on these courts- a self-inflicted wound caused by his masochistically overcrowded early tour schedule- should give Querrey cause for optimism. The big-serving American is currently 16-6 on the hardcourts this season. He was impressive at Wimbledon before winning in Los Cabos. His poor showing on the slightly slower Canadian courts should be forgiven coming off his exertions in Mexico. He could even be a thorn in the side of Nadal should he progress to the semi’s.

Keeping with the American theme, I think that Jack Sock could be worth a bet in the depleted bottom half of the draw. Clearly the absence of Federer should embolden Sock, who lost to Federer in the semi-finals in Indian Wells earlier this year. He also reached the semi-finals in Washington- where he kind of acted like a child in his semi-final defeat to Anderson. The bottom quarter of the draw looks very open, with some clay-courters mixed around with the more experienced players like Del-Potro and Berdych.

Outside Bet- Gilles Muller
Muller had a semi-final appearance at both Atlanta and Queens, before that fabulous quarter-final run at Wimbledon. He obviously knocked out Rafa en route at SW19, and he may meet Nadal should he make it to the third round. His huge serve, coupled with the fact that he is a lefty- think Shapovalov- makes it tougher for Nadal, especially on these courts. Kevin Anderson is also in this quarter and may feel somewhat fatigued from the last few weeks, while Nick Kyrgios remains as mercurial as ever.

A Decent Bet- Fabio Fognini to beat Dominic Thiem at 33/20
Thiem has looked dead on his feet in this hardcourt season and will be feeling the pressure of encroaching Alex Zverev in the world rankings. Fognini may be able to outlast Thiem, especially if Thiem loses his serve.

Written by Damien Kayat for

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