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Cincinnati Masters 2017 Preview and Prediction: The battle for number 1 reaches fever pitch

RealSport previews the last Masters 1000 before the US Open, held on the ultra-fast courts of the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.


After a Rogers Cup full of surprise runs, early exits and jaw dropping tennis, the ATP Tour moves across the border into the United States of America. The venue is Cincinnati, Ohio, where the second of the two Masters 1000’s before the US Open gets underway. The draw may not be as packed with stars as usual, but there is still no shortage of quality amongst the entrants at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. The world number one ranking is up for grabs as Andy Murray’s withdrawal ensures he will vacate the position at the end of the week. Rafael Nadal is in pole position to claim it but likely to be faced with tough competition from Roger Federer, seven-times a champion in Cincinnati.

Who’s playing?

Nadal and Federer lead the tournament as the number one and two seeds respectively. Federer, with five titles for the year, is the joint leader on tour in that category alongside Alexander Zverev whilst Nadal has won four. Both have also claimed two Masters 1000’s titles, the joint most, again tied with Zverev, and are preparing to battle it out for Murray’s number one ranking this week. After Federer’s defeat in the Rogers Cup final, the advantage lies with the Spaniard. In order to claim the top spot he only has to match Federer’s result. That being said, he fell early in Montreal when reaching the semi-finals would have got him across the line. He will have to remain focused early on, with potential second round opponent Richard Gasquet a tough opening match.

Zverev, who claimed his second Masters 1000 title in Montreal on Sunday, is also in the draw, again seeded fourth. He is unbeaten so far during the North American hard court swing, also winning the title in Washington. He also looked in frightening form in Canada, dropping just one set all week. Getting past Nick Kyrgios, Kevin Anderson, Denis Shapovalov and Federer in straight sets is no mean feat. He is joined by third seed Dominic Thiem, who lost his first match in Montreal to eventual quarter-finalist Diego Schwartzman. Thiem has struggled so far on the hard courts having also fallen early in Washington. The Austrian will be looking for an upturn in form ahead of the year’s final Slam.

The trio of fifth seed Kei Nishikori, sixth seed Milos Raonic and eighth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will also be looking for a better week. None will be more disappointed than Raonic who fell in the first round of his home in straight sets to Adrian Mannarino. That being said, Nishikori probably ran him close in the frustration stakes after squandering four match points in a row against Gael Monfils. It went little better for Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov, this week the seventh seed, who fell in the third round to Robin Haase. He capitulated in a deciding set that he lost 6-1. His draw had opened up and he will be disappointed not to have taken advantage.

David Goffin and Tomas Berdych round out the top 10 seeds in Cincinnati. Both have struggled with injury recently. Goffin, the ninth seed, is on the comeback trail after a bad ankle injury he sustained at Roland Garros. It has not gone perfectly for him as he has managed just three wins in the three tournaments he has played since. Berdych meanwhile, seeded 10th, played in Los Cabos after Wimbledon, where he reached the semi-finals. He lost surprisingly to Thanasi Kokkinakis and withdrew from the Rogers Cup with injury but returns in Cincinnati.

Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka’s injury layoff continues. They won’t be returning to the tour until 2018. Murray (hip) and Marin Cilic (abductor) are also once again absent after missing Montreal. Whether they will be fit for the US Open, particularly in the case of Murray, remains unclear.

First round match to watch

Tomas Berdych vs Juan Martin del Potro promises to be a thrilling match. Both are amongst the biggest hitters on tour and are also excellent movers, despite their significant heights. They have had a number of excellent battles down the years, and both have won big titles and possess plenty of experience of playing at the highest level. Mischa Zverev vs Fernando Verdasco should also be an entertaining watch. Both like to play aggressive tennis, and the elder Zverev’s net-rushing tennis against Verdasco’s forehand could produce some great rallies.

Prediction

On form, Alexander Zverev is the firm favourite for this title. He’s been playing the best hard court tennis since Wimbledon by a distance. Even before injury problems started to bother Federer midway through the second set, he was struggling. That being said, it is impossible to rule out the legendary Swiss after the way he has been playing so far this year. Also, Zverev’s runs to both the Washington and Montreal titles might have taken a lot out of him. But don’t look to Nadal as a potential champion. He had a superb clay court season but has actually flattered to deceive during the rest of the season. He is yet to pick up a title away from his favourite service and doesn’t seem likely to start on the ultra-fast Cincinnati courts. This may well be another shootout between Federer and Zverev.

Who do you think will reign in Cincinnati? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jim Smith

I'm Jim, and I'm RealSport's tennis editor. I'm currently studying history as an undergraduate at Warwick.

I love tennis, but I'm also a diehard fan of Tottenham Hotspur, as well as being a supporter of the Dallas Mavericks and the Carolina Panthers.

Cincinnati Masters 2017 Preview and Prediction: The battle for number 1 reaches fever pitch

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