Reem Abulleil takes a look at the things learned from Cincinnati before the tennis world shifts its focus to the US Open.
The Western and Southern Open wrapped up in Cincinnati on Sunday, leaving us with lots to look forward to at the US Open next week.
Novak Djokovic and Kiki Bertens walked away with the men’s and women’s titles, with Roger Federer and Simona Halep settling for the runner-up trophies.
Andy Murray and Serena Williams made early exits, Rafael Nadal withdrew ahead of the tournament while Petra Kvitova had her best Cincinnati run since 2012.
Here are the things learned from the past week in Mason, Ohio.
HISTORY FOR NOVAK
In an era that includes history-makers like Federer and Nadal, Djokovic has somehow managed to find a way to make his own slice of history and achieve something neither of his rivals – nor anyone ever for that matter – has managed to achieve. The Serb’s 6-4, 6-4 win over Federer on Sunday saw Djokovic become the first player to complete the full set of Masters 1000 crowns, winning at least one title at each of the 9 Masters tournaments.
Djokovic entered the match 0-5 in Cincinnati finals and had lost three of those to Federer in 2009, 2012 and 2015. On Sunday, he was untroubled against the Swiss seven-time Cincy champion though and was buoyed by the confidence boost he got from winning Wimbledon last month. Djokovic is now back up to No. 6 in the world, which means he has snagged a top-eight seeding at next week’s US Open and is one of the top contenders for the title there.
“Definitely one of the most special moments in my career. Achievements, making history of the sport that I truly love is a great privilege and honor and something that I’ll be very proud of for the rest of my life,” Djokovic told reporters in Mason on Sunday.
“I was saying previously that during this week that obviously this trophy has been a motivation, big motivation for me.
“But at the same time I tried not to think about the pressure of really making history too much, because I have had already some failed attempts, three years ago with Roger, and coming into today’s match, I mean, wasn’t easy psychologically because I knew I lost to him every time I played him on this court. But at the same time, I liked my chances because I felt better and better as the tournament week was progressing.”
PERFECT 10 FOR KIKI
Bertens went from contemplating retirement end of last year to winning a second Premier title of the season, rising to a career-high No. 13 in the world and claiming a 10th victory over a top-10 opponent.
The win over world No. 1 Halep in the final on Sunday gave Bertens her first career hard-court title. All of her previous seven finals had come on clay and she says it wasn’t until she made the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last month that she felt she could do well on faster surfaces.
In the last two weeks alone, Bertens made the Montreal quarter-finals, won Cincy, and defeated Petra Kvitova twice, Karolina Pliskova, Halep, Elina Svitolina and Caroline Wozniacki (via retirement).
She’s positioned herself as a real threat in New York and is No. 8 in the Race to Singapore.
ALL EYES ON HALEP AT THE OPEN
She ran out of gas in the third set against Bertens, but Halep is undoubtedly the top contender at the US Open. The world No. 1 took nine matches in a row, winning Montreal and finishing as runner-up in Cincinnati and is playing with lots of swagger and determination. She has fallen in the final in Mason three times now, but considering Djokovic finally got his elusive title here on his sixth attempt, Halep must surely get there eventually. Here’s hoping she pulls out of New Haven though so she could rest before New York.
With wins over Nick Kygios, Kei Nishikori and Diego Schwartzman in the last two weeks, plus a close quarter-final defeat to Nadal in Toronto and a tight three-set loss to Federer in the semi-finals in Cincinnati, Stan Wawrinka is an unseeded wildcard many will be dreading to face in the US Open draw.
The Swiss, who had two knee surgeries a year ago, looks back and is ready to roar. His movement, physicality, and positive mentality all seem to be coming back to him, which will make New York all the more exciting.
If Federer was looking for a tough week where he’d be tested on multiple levels than he got what he wished for in Cincinnati. Rain forced him to play, and win, two matches in one day, and pit him against the likes of David Goffin, Wawrinka and Djokovic. His return of serve was off against Djokovic in the final, but the Swiss can still feel confident heading into the US Open.
WATCH OUT FOR SABALENKA
Up to a career-high ranking of 25, Aryna Sabalenka followed up her final showing in Eastbourne with a semi-final run in Cincinnati. The Belarusian big-hitter will be seeded in New York, and should be buzzing with confidence having defeated Johanna Konta, Karolina Pliskova, Caroline Garcia, Madison Keys and Caroline Wozniacki all in the last two weeks.
The 16-year-old Amanda Anisimova, who received a US Open wildcard, was out for more than four months with a foot fracture but returned in San Jose earlier month. She claimed two solid wins over Timea Babos and Petra Martic in Cincinnati before falling in two close sets to fifth-seeded Svitolina. She’s one young gun to watch at the Open for sure.