With the National Bank Open now in the rearview mirror, the ATP Tour continues its summer hard-court swing with the Masters 1000-level tournament at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati.
One thing we already know at the mid-week point is that the success we saw players like Jannik Sinner and Alex de Minaur enjoy in Toronto is not something that will repeat itself this time around. Both players, likely tired from their great run in Canada, bowed-out early in Cincy with Sinner falling to Dusan Lajovic and de Minaur being taken down by the resurgent Gael Monfils.
Who should we keep an eye on as the draw progresses then? Well for starters, how about World No. 1 Carlos Alcaraz.
While the Spaniard brought plenty of buzz with him in his Toronto debut, his tournament ended in the quarter-finals with a loss to Tommy Paul. Fast forward to this week in Cincinnati and Alcaraz once again will have to contend with the American, who holds a career 2-1 head-to-head advantage against him.
By the time you read this, perhaps Alcaraz will have figured out a way to get past Paul, who admitted after their most recent encounter that, “I like playing anyone that's a big challenge. He's obviously right now the best player in the world. And when you have those matchups on Center Court - you're always going to be on Center Court when you're playing No. 1 in the world - I really enjoy playing those matches.”
Novak Djokovic has had a successful return to the hard courts with an opening victory against NBO Semifinalist Alejandro Davidovich Fokina who retired after Djokovic took the first set 6-4. Djokovic has won in this event twice before, most recently in his last appearance there in 2020 against Canada’s Milos Raonic.
Contrary to how things played out in Toronto, the top four seeds have all advanced to the round of sixteen, though there have been some upsets early as well. Fifth seed Casper Ruud’s struggles so far on hard courts have continued as he exited in his first match in Cincinnati at the hands of Max Purcell 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Purcell has had some great results so far this summer and is playing well above his current rank of No. 70.
Andrey Rublev has also seen some tough times, as the No. 7 seed lost early once again, this time versus Finland’s Emil Ruusuvuori 7-6(10), 5-7, 7-6(3).
Stories to Watch
The biggest story to watch this week in Cincy has got to be the return of Novak Djokovic. The recent Wimbledon finalist chose to skip the National Bank Open in Toronto due to fatigue and will try to get his hard-court game clicking in time to compete for a staggering 24th Grand Slam title at the US Open in a couple of weeks.
Will one tournament be enough preparation for him as he heads to Flushing Meadows? In all three of Djokovic’s previous US Open wins, he had played both the Canadian Masters 1000 and Cincinnati in the lead-up.
This year he is clearly banking on the one event to be sufficient and perhaps now that he’s older, this is the right way to go about it.
Off Court Buzz
Canada’s Davis Cup title defense will commence in just a few week’s time. The 2023 squad appears as though it will have a different look from a year ago however when they return to the court September 12-17th.
When the roster was initially announced, Felix Auger-Aliassime’s name was not included on the list. As he is already committed to playing the Laver Cup in Vancouver from September 22-24, it is understandable why the Davis Cup is unlikely for Felix. This Fall, the current World No. 14 will have three tournaments to defend champion points at, including Florence, Antwerp and Basel.
Denis Shapovalov is on the roster, but has just announced his withdrawal from the US Open later this month as he continues to rehab his own knee injury. Despite reaching the round of sixteen at Wimbledon, Shapo was hampered in his mobility by the knee and admitted he likely needed a couple of months away from competition following his exit on the grass there.
The Canadian Davis Cup responsibilities will likely fall to two emerging faces on the national team in Alexis Galarneau and Gabriel Diallo, with veteran Vasek Pospisil hopefully healthy enough to help guide them through the experience as well.
The 24-year-old Galarneau recently won the first ATP Challenger tournament of his career in Granby, while 21-year-old Diallo captured the first ATP match win of his young career in Toronto at the National Bank Open. The duo were part of the 2022 Davis Cup squad that was honoured at the NBO with a special ceremony where they received their championship rings from their role a year ago. This time it appears they will very much be in the limelight when Canada takes to the court in Bologna against Chile, Italy and Sweden.