It is no news that the ATP has been hit with a barely believable injury wave as of late. Long time top 10 players Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka, and Kei Nishikori – who all finished 2016 in the top 5 – have shut down their seasons and they’re far from alone when it comes to top players struggling with injuries. The remaining two players to finish in the top 5 last year are Milos Raonic and Andy Murray; both of them have skipped Cincinnati due to injury and both are uncertain to return any time soon. 2017 has mostly been dominated by Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal; the Swiss felt some back discomfort last week in Montreal and was forced to withdraw from this week’s event.
This state of affairs presents a unique opportunity for some less touted and successful names to get a big point haul or even finally win a big title. Can Grigor Dimitrov or Dominic Thiem finally win a Masters 1000 title? The Bulgarian has notched a couple of excellent wins over Lopez and del Potro and now has a very winnable quarterfinal against Yuichi Sugita. The Japanese might look at it as a big opportunity himself though; after all, he did have match points when the two played last year in the Canada Masters. Thiem, on the other hand, has struggled to really make a mark in the bigger hard court events, but he’ll surely be looking at this as a chance; his path to the semifinals includes Adrian Mannarino (who he’s 4-0 against) tonight, followed by David Ferrer (1-0), so all he needs to do to reach a first hard court Masters semifinal is to beat two players he’s never lost to.
It also presents opportunities to US players to make big strides. John Isner’s Cincinnati final appearance in 2013–where he lost to Nadal in two tiebreaks–was one of three finals he made at this level, but he’s yet to win one. Winning it all this week would take an already excellent career to a whole new level, and looking at the draw there’s no reason for Isner not to believe in his chances. But Isner’s path is filled with other hopeful young Americans, namely Frances Tiafoe in the Round of 16 tonight and Jared Donaldson in the quarterfinal, both of whom will also be looking for their big breakthrough. For Donaldson, this tournament already qualifies as quite the breakthrough, but another win would mark the first of what will hopefully be many Masters successes for the rising American.
Needless to say, you can’t ever fully write off Nick Kyrgios either despite his recent injury concerns. Should he prevail over Ivo Karlovic tonight, he will take on the man who looms over all these breakthrough hopefuls–the soon-to-be-crowned World #1 and prohibitive tournament favorite Rafael Nadal. But while Nadal is rightfully the favorite to win it all, there is some hope for the field; for starters, Nadal hasn’t won a hard court title since January 2014 and he has lost his last eight finals on the surface. He has also lost to Denis Shapovalov last week in Canada, so while he remains the favorite, the field of hopefuls should certainly be confident in their chances.
Embed from Getty Images