A Breakthrough Week Gets Better For Kecmanovic At Cincinnati Masters

ATP Masters in Cincinnati (photo: Western & Southern Open/Cincy Tennis)

CINCINNATI, August 15, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

With top seeds Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer already safely into the third round of the Western & Southern Open, the focus on Wednesday turned to five other Top 10 players plus a former finalist as play continued in the Cincinnati Masters at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.

World No. 6 and seventh seed Alexander Zverev of Germany faced #NextGenATP up-and-coming star Miomir Kecmanovic in an afternoon match featured on Center Court. Zverev, a three-time ATP Masters 1000 winner, came into the Cincinnati event as the only active player besides Djokovic, Federer, Rafael Nadal or Andy Murray owning at least three ATP Masters 1000 titles.

However, Zverev’s success in other Masters tournaments has not translated to success in Cincinnati. After losing his opening match four consecutive years, Zverev entered Wednesday’s encounter with Kecmanovic seeking his first main-draw win in the Queen City. It didn’t happen.

Kecmanovic upset Zverev, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-4, to earn his first Top 10 victory in what has been a breakout season for the likable 19-year-old from Belgrade, Serbia, who trains in Bradenton, Florida. He qualified for the main draw by winning twice over the weekend, then followed it with a satisfying win over fellow 19-year-old Felix Auger-Aliassime on Monday. Earlier this year, Kecmanovic reached the quarterfinal round in another Masters 1000 tournament, in Indian Wells. He’ll equal that feat with another victory in Cincinnati on Thursday.

“I definitely feel great,” said Kecmanovic during an interview with Tennis Channel after his win against Zverev, which lifted him to No. 50 in the live rankings. “I played some amazing tennis. I had a breakthrough this spring in Indian Wells. So, I’m really loving the U.S. Masters swing.”

Although only seven points separated the two players (98-91), Zverev’s 20 double faults were his undoing during the two hour and 18 minute match. Additionally, Kecmanovic broke the German’s serve six times in eight tries and aided his own cause by winning 75 percent (47 of 63) of his point opportunities on his first serve.

“It helped me that (Zverev) was giving me more points on his serve, but also there was pressure that I had to use these opportunities because he was giving me more. Fortunately, I was able to stay calm and play some good tennis,” said Kecmanovic, who will face No. 11 seed Roberto Bautista Agut in the third round. The Spaniard advanced over No. 52 Frances Tiafoe of the United States, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, by saving six of seven break points.

Nishikori, Tsitsipas both go down

Sixth seed Kei Nishikori, who is back into the Top 5 in the current ATP rankings for the first time since April 2017, was upset by his practice partner and friend, 77th-ranked qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka, 7-6 (2), 6-4. It was the first meeting between the No. 1 and No. 2 Japanese players. Nishioka outpointed Nishikori 79-68 during the one hour and 40 minute match and the difference was one service break and 12 more points won on return.

“I was so excited to play with him,” said Nishioka, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I was nervous at the beginning. But also, I could see he was nervous too. So I think we were both tight. Maybe, I was playing more aggressive than him.”

Nishikori admitted “It was a tough match for me. I think he played good tennis. Served well. … (It is) good to see he’s getting stronger, growing up. … (The) past two weeks, I’m having (a) tough (time) to breathe, some reason. I’ve got to go check.”

Also, fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, who celebrated his 21st birthday earlier this week, was stymied by 36th-ranked Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 7-6 (6) in a battle of big servers. Struff, fired 16 aces to Tsitsipas’s 14 and outpointed the World No. 7 by 10 points, 114-104.

“It was a great match, he is such a good player,” Struff, 29, told ATPTour.com. “I managed to win in Barcelona (in April), so I knew I had a good chance. I had a chance to serve it out at 6-4, 5-4, but he broke back and that’s the quality he has. The quality I had today was coming back from that: the chance to win the match in two sets, then at 6-3 in the (third set) tie-break and then from 6-6. He was playing very well. I was telling myself, ‘I have to go for it, otherwise I won’t win.’

I’ve been working hard with my team, on my fitness, and it’s all finally paying off and I’m playing with greater consistency.”

Medvedev keeps on winning

Ninth seed Daniil Medvedev improved to 10-2 in his last 12 matches with a 7-6 (2), 6-1 win over 29th-ranked Benoit Paire of France. The Russian Medvedev, a finalist in his past two tournaments in Washington and Montreal, has reached a career-high No. 8 ranking this summer during the North American hard court swing.

“It was a tough match and it’s so hot today,” Medvedev told ATPTour.com. “Looking at the TV, I’m not the only one who is suffering. It was a really tough first set, where he was up a break and I knew I had to stay in it. After I won the first set, everything went my way. I am tired, after two finals in a row, so it’s not easy, but I have a lot of confidence and that can affect my opponents’ games.”

Around the Cincinnati Masters

• Mercurial Aussie Nick Kyrgios, who reached the 2017 final in Cincinnati, came into his second-round match against eighth seed Karen Khachanov of Russia having won seven of his last eight matches, including a title win at the Citi Open in Washington 10 days ago. With a 5-1 record against Top 10 players this season, the bigger the stakes the better the 27th-ranked Kyrgios seems to play. In their featured Center Court match on Wednesday night, however, Khachanov overpowered the Aussie to bag a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-2 victory as Kyrgios became unraveled and the Russian maintained his focus.

• No. 38 Alex de Minaur from Australia took out No. 42 wild card Reilly Opelka of the United States, 7-6 (3), 6-4, to reach the third round of a Masters 1000 for the second time. The hard serving Opelka was limited to just nine aces while de Minaur won 82 percent (28 of 34) of his first-serve points and saved both break points he faced during the one hour and 33 minute match. It was the third time the two have met and de Minaur improved to 3-0 with the victory.

“I’m happy with the way I’ve been serving lately,” said de Minaur, who won hard court titles earlier this season in Sydney and Atlanta, during an interview with Tennis Channel. “I’m into a really good rhythm. That puts a lot of pressure on the other guy’s serve. I’m able to return a bit more freely. I’ll take easier points on my serve any day of the week.”

Asked how he’s been successful against the big serve of Opelka, de Minaur said, “You just have to go with your gut instincts. You have to commit to a side and make sure if you get the right side to hit a good return. … You want to put the ball in a good enough position and hope you can get into a good, long rally.”

• Other Wednesday winners included: No. 13 seed David Goffin (6-1, 7-5 over No. 22 Guido Pella), No. 24 Diego Schwartzman, No. 31 Lucas Pouille, No. 56 Richard Gasquet, No. 59 Adrian Mannarino, and No. 70 qualifier Andrey Rublev.

• A day after playing his first singles match since undergoing hip resurfacing surgery in January, Great Britain’s Andy Murray was back on court Tuesday in the doubles draw paired with Feliciano Lopez of Spain, with whom he teamed to win the title at Queens Club in London earlier this summer. Murray and Lopez beat fourth seeds Jean-Julien Rojer from France and Horia Tecau of Romania, 3-6, 6-3, 10-3. Next, they will face Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock, both from the United States, in Thursday’s second round.

What they’re saying

• Miomir Kecmanovic on the importance of his win over World No. 6 Alexander Zverev: “It means a lot because I also broke into the Top 50 today. So it’s a really special moment for me. I’m really happy that I was able to play the way I did. I worked a lot, I practised a lot. To see everything come together and happen, it’s really special.”

• World No. 3 Roger Federer, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 second-round rain-delayed win over Juan Ignacio Londero of Argentina on Tuesday night: “(I’m) very happy. I thought it was tricky with the rain delay and everything, but I’m happy to be back on the courts. It’s totally different to the grass courts and the clay courts we have seen, so this is the beginning of a long, long hard-court swing. So it’s nice to start off with a win.”