In A Week Full Of Upsets At Cincinnati Masters, Rublev’s Stands Above Them All

CINCINNATI, August 16, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

With the lower half of the Western & Southern Open draw decimated by upsets – and coupled with the earlier withdrawals of Rafael Nadal (fatigue), Dominic Thiem (illness) and Fabio Fognini (angle) – suddenly, things are looking very good for 11th seed Roberto Bautista Agut and 16th seed David Goffin. For a while, it looked good for both Diego Schwartzman and Alex de Minaur until they lost on Thursday.

However, the biggest upset of the Masters 1000 tournament so far came during the afternoon’s featured match on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center as 70th-ranked qualifier Andrey Rublev of Russia, just 21, took out seven-time Cincinnati champion Roger Federer, 17 years his senior, with ease 6-3, 6-4. Federer came in as the most prolific Cincinnati titlist, but hasn’t lifted the trophy in the Queen City since 2015. He brought a 47-9 lifetime win-loss record at the Western & Southern Open into his match with Rublev, who was looking for his second Top 5 win in the past month after beating Thiem at Hamburg.

If one blinked during the while Federer-Rublev encounter, they could be forgiven because the Swiss maestro was on court for just 61 minutes – his shortest match in 16 years. While his key indicators – services aces, first-serve points won, break points saved and won – weren’t bad, they weren’t as good as Rublev’s. Consider that the forgotten Russian among a trio of young stars that includes Daniil Medvedev and Karen Khachanov hit five aces and won 82 percent of his first-serve points – and broke Federer an uncharacteristic three times. So, it’s not surprising to see Rublev win and move into the quarterfinals of a Masters 1000 tournament for the first time in his career.

“It’s my biggest and the most emotional win,” Rublev said afterward, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “The true champion and legend he is … I can’t imagine every day how much pressure you have. I mean, to know that you’re Roger and everybody is watching you and you need to prove it every day, and he’s doing this, I don’t know for how many years. I mean, this is something, I don’t know, unreal.”

Federer praised Rublev’s effort. “He was super clean. Defense, offense, serving well. Didn’t give me anything. He was everywhere. So it was tough for me, but excellent match by him. I was impressed,” Federer said.

Bautista Agut in the mix

Meanwhile, Bautista Agut reached a new career-high ranking of No. 11 on Monday and has been in the mix all week. The Spaniard has been efficiently going about winning and advancing round by round over the likes of Hubert Hurkacz and Frances Tiafoe earlier in the tournament.

On Thursday, Bautista Agut played 19-year-old qualifier Miomir Kecmanovic with a quarterfinal berth on the line and won 6-1, 6-2 in just 59 minutes. The 58th-ranked #NextGenATP up-and-comer from Serbia had beaten Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime and Alexander Zverev in back-to-back matches and his win over the German represented his first Top 10 win. Bautista Agut was solid in capturing 70 percent (35 of 50) of his service points and broke Kecmanovic four times while outpointing him 56-36.

Next, Bautista Agut will face 56th-ranked Richard Gasquet of France, who advanced to the quarterfinal round with a 7-6 (6), 6-3 win over No. 24 Diego Schwartzman from Argentina.

Djokovic wins streak reaches eight

Elsewhere, No. 1 seed and defending champion Novak Djokovic advanced over 53rd-ranked qualifier Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, 6-3, 6-4, in 90 minutes during the evening’s featured match on Center Court. The World No. 1 from Serbia has won eight consecutive matches.

“I’m very pleased with the performance today because I played against a very great, quality player tonight. It’s a straight-sets win but probably the score doesn’t indicate how tough it was on the court,” Djokovic said, quoted by the ATP Tour website. “Overall, (it was) a really, really good match.”

Djokovic will face a surprise quarterfinalist in 31st-ranked Lucas Pouille of France, who took out Khachanov, 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-2, to reach his first Masters 1000 quarterfinal since 2017 Monte-Carlo. After Khachanov maintained his focus during a third-set meltdown by the polarizing Nick Kyrgios Wednesday night, Pouille proved a much less volatile opponent.

Medvedev looks forward to playing Rublev

Finally, Medvedev, who has reached two consecutive finals at Washington and Montreal this month, easily won 6-2, 6-1 over a previously in-form Jan-Lennard Struff, who was chasing after his second straight Top 10 win after upsetting World No. 7 Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece on Wednesday. Medvedev, who has won 11 of his last 13 matches, needed just 65 minutes to take out the 36th-ranked German. He did so with a strong performance that included nine aces, no breaks of his serve, and he outpointed Struff 65-42. Medvedev will face Rublev in an all-Russian quarterfinal on the Grandstand Friday evening.

“I’m really impressed,” Medvedev said of Rublev. The two practiced together during the Rogers Cup in Montreal last week. “Many guys have spent all their career trying to beat Roger and they didn’t succeed, and him in the first meeting, he puts 3 and 4 to Roger. That’s just amazing from him and huge respect for that.”

Although they’ve never faced each other in a tour-level match, three years ago Medvedev beat Rublev in straight sets at the Budapest Challenger.

“We are good friends, and we know each other quite well since (we were) kids,” Rublev recalled during his news conference. “It’s going to be interesting match for Russia. He’s now (the Russian) No. 1, so I have no pressure. Last time we played … he beat me easily. (Friday) all the pressure will be on him. I will try to enjoy. I will try to do my best … and we will see what’s going to happen.”

Around the Cincinnati Masters

• No. 77 Yoshihito Nishioka of Japan, who took out Japanese No. 1 and World No. 5 Kei Nishikori on Wednesday, bested No. 38 Alex de Minaur from Australia, 7-5, 6-4, as he continued his fairytale run of form. Next, he will oppose No. 16 seed David Goffin of Belgium who quietly but effectively reached the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (6), 6-2 win over 59th-ranked Adrian Mannarino from France.

• Unseeded Andy Murray of Great Britain and Feliciano Lopez remained alive in doubles following a 2-6, 6-3, 10-7 second-round win over Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock of the United States. On Friday, Murray and Lopez will oppose Andy’s older brother Jamie Murray, teamed with Neal Skupski, both from Great Britain, on Stadium 3 not before 4:30 p.m. The top three seeded doubles teams remain alive in the quarterfinal round.

Kyrgios-ity: An tempest rears its ugly head, again

Nick Kyrgios argued. He insulted the chair umpire. He attacked his tennis racquets. And, finally, as he walked off the court having tanked the final set, he cursed, too. At the end of a long Wednesday night on Center Court, he lost the match – and, arguably, his dignity, too.

As Kyrgios left the court following his 6-7 (3), 7-6 (4), 6-2, second-round loss to Karen Khachanov, court-side microphones picked up a very audible obscenity delivered by the mercurial Aussie toward chair umpire Fergus Murphy: “You’re a f**king tool.”

Tennis Channel’s Jim Courier, who provided commentary and analysis of the match for a mostly-U.S. audience, said after the expletive, “That’s going to cost him. Apologies to all of you if you’re watching at home. That’s going to be very expensive. It’s highly inappropriate, obviously. … (Chair umpire) Fergus Murphy showed as much restraint as one can imagine in that situation. He held it together on his end when Nick Kyrgios was clearly incapable of doing that over something that should not have been disruptive in the first place.

“Losing your mind over the shot clock going quicker than you think is hard to fathom, that a player would be that disgruntled about that. Nick Kyrgios remains a fan favorite in a lot of quarters, and he’ll be wearing a dark hat in many quarters, as well. Something that we know, he polarizes people. People will have an opinion on him if they know who he is, one way or the other. There’s no middle ground.”

By the numbers

On Thursday, the ATP fined Nick Kyrgios $113,000 following his second-round loss in Cincinnati. Here’s a breakdown of the fine:

• Ball abuse: Warning
• Unsportsmanlike conduct: $20,000
• Leaving the court: $3,000
• Audible obscenity: $5,000
• Unsportsmanlike conduct: $5,000
• Unsportsmanlike conduct: $20,000
• Verbal abuse: $20,000
• Unsportsmanlike conduct: $20,000
• Unsportsmanlike conduct: $20,000

Kyrgios’ prize money for reaching the second round of the Cincinnati Masters was $39,120. So, for the week, he lost $73,880 thanks to his latest outburst.

Friday’s singles quarterfinals schedule

Center Court / Not before 1 p.m.
No. 11 Roberto Bautista Agut vs. Richard Gasquet

Center Court / Not before 9 p.m.
No. 1 Novak Djokovic vs. Lucas Pouille

Grandstand / Second match from 1 p.m.
Q-Yoshihito Nishioka vs. No. 16 David Goffin

Grandstand / Not before 7 p.m.
Q-Andrey Rublev vs. No. 9 Daniil Medvedev