It’s been a bizarre Western and Southern Open this year in Cincinnati. In many ways, not much has changed. Soon-to-be new men’s world #1 Rafael Nadal beat Richard Gasquet for the fifteenth consecutive time, Karolína Plíšková and Elena Vesnina are safely through to the round of 16, and Grigor Dimitrov showed us, once again, what he is capable of in a straightforward win over Feliciano Lopez. Nevertheless, it is evident that as much as some things have remained consistent this tournament, the word that has been on the minds of most tennis fans has been “different.”
For one, let us take Frances Tiafoe’s wonderful win over Alexander Zverev. The American wild card came back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. This may have been aided by fatigue on Zverev’s side, but we cannot take away from what was a masterful, tactical display from the young American.
We have also had upsets in the women’s draw. Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova crashed out to World #151 Sloane Stephens in straight sets, and former World #1 Angelique Kerber continued her poor run of form by losing in three sets to Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 1-6, 7-6. Venus Williams also crashed out at the round of 32 stage, losing in three sets to Australian Ashleigh Barty. The results in both the women’s and men’s draws mean that there are surprisingly few top seeds left in the tournament. The main question now is: Will we see a surprise champion, or will we see the top seeds in Plíšková and Nadal take comfortable victories?
In Nadal’s case, it is difficult to see how anyone can match him for form and style. The Mallorcan has been imperious in his pursuit of the title in “Cincy,” and the way that he dispatched Gasquet showed that he is ready to justify his assumption of World #1 with a title. Only Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov remain as players who are seeded within the Top 10. This means that, barring any upsets, the title should be Nadal’s. The one thing you can guarantee with the Spaniard, however, is that if he is to win, he will do so in style.
The women’s draw is, as predicted, more open. Seven players seeded in the Top 10 remain in the draw, and we are still on course for the mouth-watering prospect of a Halep-Plíšková final. Plíšková’s half of the draw is trickier, and with the likes of Garbine Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki, we can expect some entertaining matches going into the quarterfinals. It would be nice to also see Elina Svitolina build on her good form from the Rogers Cup to shake things up a bit in the latter stages of the tournament.
Although the Western and Southern Open started with many notable men’s seeds dropping out, and others falling to surprise opponents, there is still plenty more space for some great matches to be played. Roll on the quarterfinals!