CINCINNATI, August 17, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
After 275 consecutive weeks in the ATP Top 30, Cincinnati Masters quarterfinalist Roberto Bautista Agut will crack the Top 10 on Monday. It’s quite an achievement for the 31-year-old native of Castellon de la Plana, Spain, and it attests to his consistency as well as his durability. Bautista Agut goes about his business on the tennis court in a no-nonsense kind of way that is both refreshing and it produces winning results.
On Friday, the 11th-ranked Bautista Agut faced 56th-ranked Richard Gasquet of France in the the quarterfinal round of the Western & Southern Open at the Lindner Family Tennis Center. The Spaniard reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon earlier this summer and was looking to reach his third ATP Masters 1000 semifinal overall and first since 2016. However, the 33-year-old Gasquet, a tour veteran who is enjoying his best tournament of the season following groin surgery in January that had limited to 21 matches prior to this week, had other ideas.
In their sixth career meeting and second in two weeks, Gasquet surprised Bautista Agut and won 7-6 (2), 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and 13 minutes to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against 16th seed David Goffin of Belgium, who won his quarterfinal round match by walkover after Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka pulled out due to illness.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) August 16, 2019
“I know how tough it was to come back,” said Gasquet, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I know the moments I had at the start of the year, so I just wanted to enjoy, to fight. Of course, it’s not easy to come back after six months out, but I’m here. I’m in semis tomorrow.”
A week ago at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, Bautista Agut prevailed over Gasquet, 7-5, 7-5, in a third-round match. This time, Gasquet was determined to reach his first Masters 1000 semifinal since the Miami Open in 2013. He finished with eight aces, won 73 percent (38 of 52) of his point opportunities on his first serve, and saved five of seven break points against him. Gasquet outpointed Bautista Agut 95-88.
After his victory, Gasquet gave praise to Bautista Agut. “He’s a great player. Of course, he’s had a good year. He’s Top 10 now. He doesn’t miss, he’s playing fast. He runs well. He has no weakness in his game. He’s a tough competitor. Physically, he’s very good, so it’s always a battle when you play against him. You need to play your best tennis to beat a guy like him.”
Fairytale week ends for Nishioka
The Cincinnati Masters has been a tournament to remember for qualifiers such as Japanese No. 2 Yoshihito Nishioka. Looking to keep his dream run alive, the 77th-ranked Nishioka was scheduled to face 16th seed David Goffin of Belgium, whom he beat at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (5), two weeks ago. Goffin reached the Cincinnati semifinals last year before retiring against seven-time champion Roger Federer.
Unfortunately, Nishioka pulled out ahead of his match against Goffin due to illness, which gave the Belgian a walkover win into the semifinals.
Looking ahead to Saturday’s semifinal with Gasquet, Goffin told ATPTour.com, “I always have some nice matches and memories here. Maybe because I have more matches under the belt at this tournament, and I have the confidence. I’m in another semifinal and I have an opportunity to reach my first Masters 1000 final. But it will be tough against Gasquet. On paper, it’s a big opportunity, but also for him. I’ll try to play my best tennis and be aggressive.”
Medvedev dominates all-Russian battle
Daniil Medvedev has now won 12 of his last 14 matches – all in straight sets – by never allowing his opponents to feel comfortable when facing him. Some say he’s winning ugly – but he’s winning by playing excellent tennis. The eighth-ranked, 23-year-old native of Moscow, Russia, been one of the most consistent players on the North American hard court swing leading up to the U.S. Open – not to mention the entire season – in compiling 42 wins, which leads the ATP Tour in most victories this year, and in reaching three consecutive semifinals, including in back-to-back Masters 1000 events.
Meanwhile, Andrey Rublev, 21, who nearly missed out on playing at Cincinnati before making the qualifying draw as an alternate and kept winning ever since, has been the quiet – almost forgotten – Russian in Cincinnati. However, his dossier of wins this week over 15th seed and Hamburg champion Nikoloz Basilashvili, three-time Grand Slam winner Stan Wawrinka and third seed and 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer – the last two in straight sets – has been impressive.
Despite being practice partners last week in Montreal and friends away from competition, the two had never met in a tour-level match before Friday evening. In the second all-Russian match deep into a Masters event in consecutive weeks, Medvedev dominated Rublev and won 6-2, 6-3. His stat line: nine aces, 75 percent first-serve points won, four breaks of Rublev’s serve, faced only one break point, and he outpointed his opponent 58-40. Additionally, Medvedev finished with 15 winners and only 11 unforced errors while Rublev hit 16 winners but committed 26 unforced errors.
“He makes you play uncomfortably bad,” ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said of Medvedev as he reached match point in just 61 minutes against Rublev.
Week of upsets hasn’t affected Djokovic
In a week filled with upsets, only one of the top eight seeds reached the final eight in Cincinnati: No. 1 seed Novak Djokovic. The World No. 1 took on 31st-ranked Lucas Pouille of France for the first time since Djokovic won their Australian Open semifinal in Melbourne earlier this year en route to winning the title. The result was the same: Djokovic won. This time, he eased past Pouille, 7-6 (2), 6-1, in one hour and 26 minutes to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against Daniil Medvedev, whom he owns a 3-1 career head-to-head advantage. Djokovic has now reached the last four in five straight tournaments he played in.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) August 17, 2019
“It’s a lot of fun playing at night,” said Djokovic during a post-match interview with ESPN. “The crowd gets into it and I like playing night matches.”
A year ago, the Serbian became the first player to win a career Golden Masters (lifting trophies in all nine Masters 1000 events). This year, he seems content to let the seeds fall all around him while making quick work of his opponents, Sam Querrey and Pablo Carreño Busta, which he did with a pair of straight set victories. His heart’s been in his matches this week.
Against Pouille, he dominated from the start of the match by playing aggressively and winning the opening point with an overhead smash as he came into the net following an extended baseline rally. He went on to outpoint Pouille 73-52 and won 75 percent (47 of 63) of his service points while saving each of the three break points he faced.
Around the Cincinnati Masters
• Doubles World No. 1s Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah became the first team to punch their ticket for the eight-team Nitto ATP Finals in London, Nov. 10-17. The Colombians clinched their berth with a 7-6 (3), 6-7 (5), 10-8 over Rohan Bopanna of India and Denis Shapovalov from Canada on Thursday.
On Friday Cabal, 32, and Farah, 31, advanced to the semifinal round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over seventh seeds Henri Kontinen of Finland and John Peers of Australia.
“It’s always nice to qualify to The O2 so early into the year,” Farah told the ATP Tour website. “It means that we’ve done really well and that shows all the work we’ve put in. It’s a very good feeling.” Cabal added: “It’s a goal we have in the beginning of the year. It’s amazing. It’s great news for Colombia, for us. I hope we do well over there.”
• Great Britain’s Andy Murray, who earlier in the day accepted a wild card into the main draw at the ATP 250 Winston-Salem Open in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and changed his mind about playing doubles and mixed doubles at the U.S. Open in order to concentrate on singles, lost with his partner, Feliciano Lopez of Spain, in a quarterfinal doubles match against Jamie Murray and Neal Skupski, both from Great Britain, 6-7 (5), 7-5, 10-4. There were plenty of awkward moments seeing the Murray brothers on opposite sides of the net during their match on the Grandstand Friday afternoon, but the more experienced team prevailed.
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) August 16, 2019
“We’re happy to win today. It’s always a difficult situation, probably more so for him than me,” said Jamie Murray, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “I think we both did a good job and it was a pretty good level. It was packed for most of the match, so it was good fun.”
By the numbers
• A year ago at this time, Daniil Medvedev was ranked No. 56, and he lost in the first round of the main draw in Cincinnati after having to go through qualifying. Now, he’s reached the Western & Southern Open semifinals and thanks to his run of form this month, he’s projected to go to No. 7 when the ATP Rankings are updated on Monday after the Cincinnati Masters.
• At stake in the Gasquet-Goffin semifinal: Either David Goffin makes his first career Masters 1000 final or Richard Gasquet makes his first Masters 1000 final since Toronto 2012, only four months after returning from groin surgery.
What they’re saying
No. 9 seed Daniil Medvedev on facing No.1 seed Novak Djokovic in Saturday’s semifinals: “Novak is Novak. There is actually nothing to say about him. Just huge respect.”
Saturday’s men’s semifinal schedule
Center Court / Not before 1 p.m.
PR-Richard Gasquet vs. No. 16 David Goffin.
Center Court / Not before 6 p.m.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. No. 9 Daniil Medevev
Grandstand / 2 p.m.
Jamie Murray/Neal Skupski vs. Ivan Dodig/Filip Polasek
Grandstand / Not before 4 p.m.
No. 1 Juan Sebastian Cabal/Robert Farah vs. No. 6 Mate Pavic/Bruno Soares