Reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza trounced top-ranked defending champion Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 6-2 Saturday to reach the final of the WTA and ATP Cincinnati Masters.
The sixth-ranked Spaniard reached her first US event final by flipping the script in a rematch of their 2016 Cincinnati semi-final.
“I’m just happy to be in the final,” said Muguruza. “I was hoping to get it and my concentration was really good. Very happy with this win.”
Muguruza advanced to Sunday’s final against the winner of a later match between Romania’s second-ranked Simona Halep and 151st-ranked US wildcard Sloane Stephens.
While she can’t do it this week, Muguruza would be in the hunt for the top ranking at the US Open, which starts on August 28.
“I’m definitely not thinking at all about number one,” Muguruza said. “It’s not going to help me. It’s going to hold me back.
I’m thinking about how I’m playing and if I keep doing that maybe that’s going to get me to number one.”
Halep, who won her 15th career title at Madrid in May, has not dropped a set this week.
Stephens is playing in only her fourth event since returning from a foot injury that required surgery in January. Her run ensures she will return to the top-100 in Monday’s world rankings.
In later men’s semi-finals, Australia’s Nick Kyrgios will face Spaniard David Ferrer and American John Isner will meet Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov.
Ferrer, 35, is the oldest Cincinnati semi-finalist since 1970 champion Ken Rosewall. He won his lone Masters crown in 2012 at Paris.
Neither Kyrgios nor Dimitrov have ever reached an ATP Masters final while Isner is 0-3 in such matches.
With sidelined Serena Williams about to have a baby, five players have a chance to grab the world number one ranking at this week’s US Open tuneup event in Cincinnati.
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion who announced her pregnancy and the end of her season in April, owned the top spot for 186 consecutive weeks through last September, matching Steffi Graf for an Open Era record, and traded the spot with Germany’s Angelique Kerber earlier this year.
Defending Cincinnati champion Karolina Pliskova took over the top spot five weeks ago but could lose points from her title run, opening the door for rivals to overtake her.
Romania’s second-ranked Simona Halep, world number three Kerber, Ukraine’s fourth-ranked Elina Svitolina and fifth-ranked Dane Caroline Wozniacki could, mathematically, all claim the top spot.
“Nothing has changed. I have a big responsibility. I’ll do everything as I have before,” Pliskova said. “I do think it’s a huge thing but I don’t want to do anything just because of the rankings. I don’t try to behave differently. I try not to see the pressure.”
Pliskova has won titles this year at Brisbane, Doha and Eastbourne but anything short of a repeat gives Halep a chance to reach number one by winning the title.
“To be number one in the world is a big thing. It shows you have been consistent. You have won the place. If I deserve the place, for sure I will win it,” Halep said.
The Romanian however remains haunted by a French Open final loss to Jelena Ostapenko in which she was up a set and a break before squandering a chance at her first Grand Slam title and number one.
“I still have bad dreams about that,” Halep said. “I still suffer.”
She’s also trying to forget a 6-1, 6-1 loss to Svitolina in the Toronto semi-finals, one for which she apologised to spectators on Monday.
“I was really disappointed. It was a horror match for me,” Halep said. “I couldn’t feel the ball. I can’t say I wasn’t ready to play. It never happened to me before, not like that.”
Svitolina, 22, has won titles this year in Taiwan, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto.
She credits Dubai with inspiration but improved in her Canada title run last week.
“The title in Dubai really gave me that push. I played great,” Svitolina said. “But this tournament in Toronto showed me I can go there not playing my best and fight back and still be able to win the title.
“It’s one more step in a good direction.”
Svitolina’s hot season has inspired her to aim big.
“It’s very special. It gives me more energy to go for more,” Svitolina said.
She needs a title and Pliskova out before the semi-finals to reach number one.
“I know this but I try not to put so much pressure on myself. Of course to be number one is a goal of mine. The important thing is to play well,” Svitolina said.
“I know it’s very close for everyone. I’d prefer to play well at big tournaments. Then the ranking will be there.”
Kerber and Wozniacki need Pliskova to crash out in her opening match to have a chance at number one this week.
And while Spain’s sixth-ranked Garbine Muguruza, can’t overtake now, she would be a threat to do so at the US Open.
“It’s going to be a battle,” she said. “I like that I’m part of it and it’s going to be a big thing. Now I feel like I’ve got to play. I can’t miss a tournament. If I do I’m gone.”
The women’s tour heads to Cincinnati, where top seed Karolina Pliskova is the defending champion.
This upcoming stretch is where Pliskova caught fire last year and she has 2,100 points to defend between now and the end of the US Open.
This time, the Czech is the world No. 1 and the hunted rather than the hunter. Here’s a look at the Cincinnati draw and the main talking points ahead of the action…
Karolina Pliskova (CZE)  v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN) 
Elina Svitolina (UKR)  v Angelique Kerber (GER) 
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS)  v Garbine Muguruza (ESP) 
Simona Halep (ROU)  v Johanna Konta (GBR) 
Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)  v Daria Gavrilova (AUS)
Elena Vesnina (RUS) v Carolina Garcia (FRA)
Madison Keys (USA)  v Coco Vandeweghe (USA)
Sloane Stephens (USA) v Lucie Safarova (CZE)
Dominika Cibulkova (SVK)  v Ana Konjuh (CRO)
The Muguruza quarter of the draw includes: Kuznetsova , French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko , Stanford champion and runner-up Madison Keys  and Coco Vandeweghe, along with talented Russian Daria Kasatkina and Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.
The German’s task at hand is not any easier than Muguruza’s. Kerber shares a quarter of the draw with: Elina Svitolina, who is into her fifth final of the season in Toronto (faces Wozniacki on Sunday 21:20 UAE time), two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Toronto quarter-finalists, Lucie Safarova and Sloane Stephens (faced off in Canada on Friday and will meet in Cincy opening round), Washington champion Ekaterina Makarova, and No10 seed Agnieszka Radwanska.
With all the fuss surrounding Maria Sharapova and wildcards, the Russian hasn’t been able to make full use of those invites due to ongoing injuries. Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month doping ban end of April, has only managed to contest 10 matches in nearly four months. Her latest withdrawal is from Cincinnati, where she was due to face Ostapenko in the first round but an ongoing left arm injury has ruled her out.
Is over-training during her suspension perhaps a reason for her injury woes? Or is this just bad luck?
She has withdrawn six times already in the last three and a half months, suffering a thigh problem that forced her to retire from her Rome second round, and pull out of Birmingham, Wimbledon qualifying. A soreness in her left arm ruled her out of her second round in Stanford, and she subsequently withdrew from Toronto and Cincinnati.
She says her latest withdrawal is a precaution for the US Open, where she will either play qualifying, or contest the main draw as a wildcard (USTA have not announced their decision yet).
The world No. 1, who won the title last year in Cincy, did well during her first week at the top of the rankings, reaching the quarter-finals in Toronto before losing a close three-setter to Wozniacki in a rain-interrupted clash. She blew leads in the first and final sets in that match and will be looking to avoid that this week in Cincy. Pliskova could have a rematch with Wozniacki by Friday as they’ve both landed in the same quarter of the draw.