Novak Djokovic of Serbia on the final day of the Western & Southern Open at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center in Flushing, NY on Saturday August 29, 2020. (Ben Solomon/Western & Southern Open)
By Nick McCarvel
There is danger in trying to look too far ahead in the Western & Southern Open men’s singles draw.
You aren’t alone, however: Yes, world No.1 Carlos Alcaraz and No.2 Novak Djokovic could be slated for a championship tilt come Sunday in Cincinnati. Yes, it would be a re-match of their instant classic Wimbledon final.
But, no, it’s not a guarantee.
That’s namely due to the stacked men’s field that has descended on the Lindner Family Tennis Center this week, which features every member of the top 20, including the likes of top 5 stars Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Casper Ruud.
Here, five men’s storylines to keep an eye on for the week in Cincinnati.
1. Alcaraz vs. Djokovic: World No.1 ranking on the line
Just weeks after that memorable Wimbledon five-setter, Alcaraz and Djokovic are playing again for the No.1 ranking, which Alcaraz currently holds onto by a mere 430 points. Djokovic must at least get to the quarterfinals to potentially overtake the Spaniard, but then the top spot is dependent on how Alcaraz performs.
If Alcaraz makes the final, however, he guarantees the No.1 ranking heading into his US Open title defense.
Cincinnati has been repeat to a Wimbledon men’s final as recently as 2015, when Roger Federer avenged his All England defeat against… Djokovic. Can Djokovic turn those tables this year?
2. ‘Packed’ draw has no room for error
“The draw is pretty packed,” says Medvedev, the 2019 champion here who made the semifinals a year ago. He’s not wrong, with the top eight – which also includes Holger Rune, Andrey Rublev and Jannik Sinner – all receiving first-round byes along with the aforementioned five highest seeds.
Medvedev features along with Djokovic, Alexander Zverev, Grigor Dimitrov, Andy Murray and reigning champ Borna Coric as former winners here, while Tsitspas, Rublev and John Isner are previous runners-up.
Isner could loom for Alcaraz in round two: The 38-year-old American takes on a qualifier in the first round, a match he’ll need to win to get a shot at a third career upset over a world No.1.
3. Must-see first rounders: Pop the popcorn
But before we dig too deep in the draw, the opening round has popped up some mouth-watering match-ups, including Sunday’s all-American clash between Wimbledon quarter-finalist Chris Eubanks and rising youngster Ben Shelton.
Shelton won that battle in three sets, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 to set up another must-see clash vs. Stefanos Tsitsipas.
But it only starts there: Former champs Zverev and Dimitrov will do battle in the opening round, as will Matteo Berrettini and Felix Auger-Aliassime, the Canadian looking to nab a second win in six matches vs. the Italian, with the first coming here in 2021.
The resurgent Murray, now 37, meets 11th seed Karen Khachanov, while Coric begins his title defense against American Sebastian Korda, who is trying to recapture the form that led him to January’s Australian Open quarterfinals.
And we’re not done. Also featuring in the first round:
- Toronto finalist Alex De Minaur vs. local hope JJ Wolf
- Fan favorite Gael Monfils vs. Cameron Norrie
- Veteran Stan Wawrinka vs. American Brandon Nakashima
- Tommy Paul (fresh off a win over Alcaraz in Canada) vs. Miomir Kecmanovic
4. Fritz, Tiafoe, Paul fly the American flag
Could we see a first homegrown men’s champion here since 2006? That year it was Andy Roddick who beat Juan Carlos Ferrero – now the coach of Alcaraz – for the title.
Both Taylor Fritz (No.9) and Frances Tiafoe (No.10) occupy top 10 spots and are looking to build off inspiring results in 2023, including a sixth career title for Taylor in Atlanta just a couple weeks ago and a pair of trophies for Frances (Houston and Stuttgart).
In total, there are 10 American men in the singles draw (not including potential qualifiers), with a could-be Toronto re-match for Paul and Alcaraz in the third round.
5. Doubles trouble: Defending champs Ram/Salisbury lead the way
It was a year ago that Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury captured doubles title here, a special win for the Indiana native Ram, who came to this event as a young kid.
They are the No.3 seeded duo this year, with top-ranked Wesley Koolhof and Neal Skupski looking to back up their Wimbledon triumph with a win here.
Djokovic, Tsitsipas, Tiafoe and Auger-Aliassime are singles stars to watch, while Eubanks and Shelton are due to team up after facing off in singles in the first round.