Nadal’s comeback, Serena’s farewell raise the stakes in Cincinnati

The Western and Southern Open is one of the biggest non-Grand Slam events on the professional tennis tour.

America’s midwestern city of Cincinnati plays host to one of the few events on the circuit that concurrently runs men’s and women’s draws, and the occasion acquires added significance with it being the final tune-up ahead of the US Open.

This year, the event is not bereft of storylines, and with huge names highlighting an uncharacteristically stacked main draw, the stakes are that much higher.

Nadal, Medvedev look for form

The narrative in Cincinnati is likely to be tailored around the top two seeds – the winners of two of the last three US Opens and the reigning hardcourt Major champions – Rafael Nadal and Daniil Medvedev.

World No. 1 Medvedev, the best vaccinated hard-courter on tour, has a lot of points to defend until the end of the year, including his US Open title. The Russian has had a quiet season ever since losing his two-set lead in the Australian Open final. The Russian won in Los Cabos earlier this month, but his early defeat in Montreal to Nick Kyrgios, who is a good pick to go deep in Cincinnati and New York himself, puts him in desperate need of form.

Nadal, on the other hand, faces a different kind of challenge. The Spaniard has been sensational this year, still unbeaten in Majors and his loss to Carlos Alcaraz in Madrid being his only defeat not related to an injury.

But the Spaniard’s success comes despite his mounting physical issues. He started the year fresh off a minor operation for his chronic foot issue, which flared up again at the French Open where he won after using anaesthetic injections. A rib injury broke him down in the Indian Wells final and curtailed the start of his clay season, and an abdominal tear led to his withdrawal from Wimbledon.

Cincinnati – where he plays for the first time since 2017 – is likely to be a test of his physicality more than a title push.

This could leave the door open for a few others. Casper Ruud and Hubert Hurkacz come into the event on the back of an excellent week in Montreal. Alcaraz, placed in a less crowded part of a draw, will be looking to gain some momentum ahead of the US Open. The Spaniard’s meteoric rise to the top of the men’s game has been marred by a few nervy final losses recently, and he will be looking to add to his breakthrough year.

The likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas and Matteo Berrettini – who plays a mouthwatering first-round against Frances Tiafoe – will also be eyeing the title if the draw opens up for them.

Kyrgios, having won in Washington and reached the final at Wimbledon, is undoubtedly the one to watch though.

Serena-Raducanu will take the headlines

Serena Williams’ retirement announcement jolted tennis fans all over the world, and now on her farewell tour, her outing in Cincinnati becomes all the more intriguing as she takes on reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu on Tuesday.

Williams’ big groundstrokes, strong serve, and natural power have all waned, and her game is surviving on clutch play and mental toughness. Raducanu, a year on from her triumph in New York but still in her first full season on tour, has struggled physically and mentally.

The Brit becomes the perfect player to face for Serena. If it is to be one of her final matches, the stakes are high. For Raducanu, a high-profile scalping of the out-of-form great may be exactly what she needs.

While both players are undoubtedly two of the biggest names in women’s tennis at the moment, they are highly unlikely to win in Cincinnati.

World No. 1 Iga Swiatek may have forgotten how to lose between March and June, but she has meandered on tour since, and will be looking to gain some momentum in America’s Midwest.

The Pole is placed in the trickiest section of the draw, with Toronto finalist Beatrice Haddad Maia, heavyweight Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina all in her quarter.

The bottom half remains open with Toronto champion Simona Halep unsure of playing, regardless of which her performances over the past few months have made her a favourite for New York. Belinda Bencic, Aryna Sabalenka, and Paula Badosa will all be looking to pounce.

XXX

Nadal returns from injury and Serena prepares to say goodbye. Medvedev is looking for form and Alcaraz remains a wildcard. Kyrgios is looking to prove himself and Raducanu needs a result. All these storylines are likely to culminate in New York next month, but they will be kicking off on Tuesday in Cincinnati.



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