Seventh seed Grigor Dimitrov clashes with Nick Kyrgios in an unexpected Cincinnati final. With seven of the top 10 out injured, there was always going to be a chance for a lower ranked player to have a big run. Dimitrov and Kyrgios have seized on that chance, playing some great tennis to hit their way into contention. Both have looked comfortable on the hard courts at the Lindner Family Tennis Center and have earned new fans with some superb shot making. A fine match should await, but who will walk away with their first Masters 1000 title?
Dimitrov and Kyrgios have met just once so far in their careers. That match came in 2015 in the second round in Indian Wells and was won by Dimitrov. But it was a very tight encounter. After the Bulgarian took the first set in a tie break, Kyrgios bounced back to level the match. Neither could take a decisive advantage in the deciding set, and it went to another tie break. There it was Dimitrov’s nerve that held as he pulled out the victory.
Neither has competed in a Masters 1000 final before. Kyrgios came close to reaching the final in Miami, holding a match point over Roger Federer before ultimately fell short. Dimitrov had lost his previous three Masters semi-finals. Who deals better with the chance to win what would be the biggest title of their careers will be interesting.
Dimitrov’s path to the final
Dimitrov enjoyed a bye into the second round. There he began against Feliciano Lopez, who had defeated him in the Queen’s Club semi-finals earlier in the year. Dimitrov, however, got his revenge on the Spaniard. After taking the opening set in a tie break, one break was enough to settle the match in the second set. The Bulgarian next clashed with 2009 US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro. The Argentine, after a succession of wrist injuries, is not the player he was when he won his only Slam. But his forehand is still a dangerous weapon, and Dimitrov did well to come through the match in straight sets. He was aided by the conditions. Del Potro wilted as the temperature increased and had to call a doctor late on as he struggled with heat exhaustion.
In the quarter-finals, Dimitrov met Yuichi Sugita. The Japanese had never before gone so deep at a Masters tournament and struggled to deal with the pressure. Dimitrov had no such concerns as he dismissed Sugita for the loss of just three games. Having moved into the semi-finals without dropping a set, Dimitrov faced his toughest challenge yet. John Isner, a finalist in Cincinnati in 2013, equipped with a huge serve and forehand is never an easy proposition. Unsurprisingly, Dimitrov couldn’t break the American’s serve. Indeed, he managed only one break point. But he came through in two tie breaks. The second tie break was a particularly tense affair. Isner saved two match points, having already denied Dimitrov at 5-4. At 11-10 the American cracked. He slammed a forehand into the net and Dimitrov was in his first Masters 1000 final.
Kyrgios’ path to the final
Kyrgios, unseeded, began his Cincinnati campaign against ninth seed David Goffin. Goffin is still working his way back to full form following a nasty ankle injury. That showed as Kyrgios beat him comfortably 6-2 6-3. The Australian next clashed with Alexandr Dolgopolov. After a comfortable first set, Kyrgios had to display all his guile and skill to come through the second. He won it 8-6 in the tie break. That set up a clash with Ivo Karlovic, who at 6’11 is the joint tallest man on tour. Rain interrupted their match midway through the first set, and when they returned it was the Croatian who made the better start. He broke Kyrgios in the final game of the opener to seal it. Kyrgios hung tough though, taking the second set in a tie break, before breaking the Karlovic serve in the decider.
He returned the same day to play Rafael Nadal under the lights on Centre Court. Kyrgios destroyed the Spaniard. Racing through the first set in just 25 minutes he broke Nadal again early on. When he forced two match points on the Nadal serve at 5-3, victory seemed near. But Nadal can never be discounted, and he fought back. He saved the two match points and another one when Kyrgios served for the match. He then broke the Australian and looked back in contention. But Nadal then surrendered his serve to love and Kyrgios made no mistake when serving for it a second time. His semi-final opponent was David Ferrer, who had battled hard to reach the last four. He fought Kyrgios every inch of the way in their match, forcing two tie breaks. Eventually, the Australian’s power and quality told as he won both to reach the final.
How do they match up?
Both are at their best when playing aggressive tennis from the baseline. Dimitrov plays one of the most aesthetically pleasing games on tour and excels when able to dominate with his forehand. He also transitions excellently into the forecourt and is a fine volleyer. He struggles when pressured on the backhand. He is particularly poor at dealing with heavy topspin. Whilst that is a weakness of all players who hit single handers, Dimitrov is even worse than most. How Kyrgios can exploit that weakness will be interesting. The Australian has a very versatile forehand and is capable of generating impressive amounts of topspin with it as well as hitting it flat with power.
Kyrgios’ defensive abilities will also be tested. It is not the strongest part of his game, and how he deals with Dimitrov’s ability to spread the court will be interesting. If he allows the Bulgarian to dominate with his forehand from the baseline too often, he will have a hard time winning the match.
This will almost certainly be a very close match unless one of the two doesn’t turn up. Kyrgios has the slight edge because he’s the better tennis player. He has more versatile groundstrokes, his backhand is more reliable and his serve is better. Dimitrov will have to play at his very best and defend his weak backhand. It’s not impossible, and Kyrgios’ game is not perfect. But the Australian should have just enough to claim the win. Kyrgios in three.
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