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.
Not over yet, but never thought I’d see a player besides Serena overpower Madison Keys like Sabalenka is doing right now… @espn
— Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) August 18, 2018
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.
Kiki Bertens became the first player from the Netherlands – man or woman – to win the Cincinnati title and she did it the hard way, saving match point en route to a 2-6, 7-6 (6), 6-2 victory over world No. 1 Simona Halep on Sunday.
Playing her first-ever hard-court final, the 26-year-old Bertens snapped Halep’s nine-match winning streak and denied the Romanian the opportunity to become the first woman since 1973 to pull off the Canada-Cincinnati double.
Bertens, who will rise to a career-high No. 13 on Monday, posted an astounding 10th victory over a top-10 player this season and her first against Halep since 2012.
It was Halep’s third defeat in a Cincinnati final having lost to Garbine Muguruza here last year and to Serena Williams in 2015.
Bertens is having a stunning 2018 after contemplating retirement at the end of last season because she wasn’t finding the joy on the tennis court. But she has transformed herself from a clay-court specialist to an all-round player this year, winning Charleston and Cincinnati, finishing as runner-up in Madrid and making the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
Halep broke in the opening game of the match then went up a double-break to lead 5-2. She took a one-set lead in 30 minutes.
The top seed fell behind 1-4 in the second set but drew level and forced a tiebreak. It looked like it might all be over when Halep got a championship point in the breaker but big hitting from Bertens saw her survive and she grabbed the second set to take the final into a decider.
Halep double-faulted in the first game of the third set to face two break points. She saved the first with an aggressive forehand that clipped the sideline and the second slipped away from Bertens on a poorly-executed drop shot. But the Dutchwoman created another opportunity and got the break moments later.
Darren Cahill, Halep’s coach, tried to encourage her during an on-court coaching visit but the world No. 1 cut a somber figure, admitting she had her chance to close out the match earlier and blew it.
— WTA (@WTA) August 19, 2018
Halep broke back immediately but Bertens struck once again and she was soon up a double-break, serving at 4-1. Halep got her hands on two break points the next game after hitting a ‘tweener’ on a Bertens lob. But the Dutchwoman stood her ground and wrapped up the victory shortly after.
“It’s the third time I’m in the same position, I lost three finals here but hopefully I’ll win the next one,” said Halep during her on-court speech.
“Kiki you played amazing, you really deserve this title.”
A complete overhaul of the Davis Cup is set to take place next year after a proposal was voted through on Thursday by the ITF.
The new Davis Cup will see a change in format and scheduling, resulting in a one-week World Cup-like event played at a neutral venue at the end of November, starting with the 2019 season. There will still be 12 home ties contested during the qualifying stage in February but the inaugural Davis Cup finals will be held in either Madrid or Lille.
ITF president David Haggerty believes this vote has “secured the long-term status of Davis Cup” but the decision is being met by mixed reaction from players and federations.
The new deal was put together by the investment group Kosmos, founded by Barcelona and Spain footballer Gerard Pique and backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, chairman of Japanese electrical giant Rakuten. American billionaire Larry Ellison, who owns the Indian Wells tournament, has also pledged his financial support.
With so many layers and elements to this new, radical, transformation of Davis Cup, tennis writer Reem Abulleil sat down with New York Times contributor and acclaimed tennis reporter Ben Rothenberg, who had been following the story closely and was in Orlando reporting on all the happenings of the ITF’s annual general meeting where the proposal was voted upon.
In part one of the discussion, Rothenberg gives us insight into what happened in Orlando, and whether the passing of the proposal took him by surprise.
The new Davis Cup is scheduled to take place from November 18-24, 2019 following the ATP Finals, with the qualifying round taking place in February.
Part two of the chat looks at the scheduled dates for the competition and whether players would be willing to extend their already problematically long seasons.Will a top-eight player finish playing the ATP Finals in London then have enough in the tank to go play a week-long Davis Cup tournament?
“That’s a big question. It’s almost not even about the London players, I think it’s more about the Bercy players. Because the London players will have at least kept playing. For Bercy, because there’s still a week off between Bercy and London, so you’ll have to wait two weeks and then play again, already deep into your offseason,” said Rothenberg.
“Sascha Zverev said he wants to be in the Maldives at that time. The amount of time they have off is short. Counter-argument which ITF would make to that, will be that you’re giving them two weeks off more in the middle of the year, you’re lessening the load in the middle and hopefully they have a little bit more saved up for the end.”
Part three of the discussion looks at the $3bn investment: Who benefits the most from this money? Are the rich federations only looking at this from one side and not realising the overall good that can come from this new Davis Cup?
“People say money, oh like it’s corruption, but money is not automatically corruption. A lot of countries – even countries like Brazil, the Brazilian federation head told me they were losing money hosting Davis Cup ties. The amount of money it took to put together a tie, they were not making back, in TV or ticket sales,” explained Rothenberg.
Part four looks at the strong opposition to this new format and whether it is all justified. Rothenberg also discusses how Davis Cup ended up being in this position and how the lack of change during the previous ITF regime damaged the competition.
Finally, we hear from Pique and his reaction after the vote in Orlando.