Barty, Medvedev Take Charge At Western & Southern Open

Ashleigh Barty (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

On a day in which nine of the WTA’s top 10 players were in action at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, in the last major tuneup before the US Open – plus four of the ATP Top 10 and four former men’s champions – the combined ATP/WTA event 25 miles north of Cincinnati finally caught a break with the weather Wednesday, which had wreaked havoc with the schedule the first two days of the week-long 1000-level tournament.

Two rain delays totaling five hours meant the final Tuesday match, between qualifier Caroline Garcia of France and American wild card Sloane Stephens, didn’t get on court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center until after 11 p.m. and finished at 2:09 a.m. Wednesday. It was won by Garcia 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-4, after two hours and 34 minutes. The Frenchwoman would be back on court less than 24 hours later against No. 8 seed and 2017 Cincinnati champion Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, who easily beat the worn down Garcia 6-4, 6-3.

With plenty of dry weather on Wednesday, both No. 1 seeds – Ashleigh Barty of Australia and Daniil Medvedev of Russia – played, and both took charge of their respective second-round matches. Each won in straight sets. Barty hit nine aces and 29 winners and unleashed her variety of slice and drop shots en route to a 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory over 67th-ranked qualifier Heather Watson of Great Britain to advance against No. 14 seed and defending champion Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who defeated 37th-ranked American Alison Riske, 6-2, 7-5.

Meanwhile, three days after Medvedev won the National Bank Open title in Toronto, the 2019 Cincinnati champion brushed aside 64th-ranked American wild card Mackenzie McDonald, who was a recent finalist at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C., in just 59 minutes. Medvedev was aided by 10 aces and 19 winners and won all but two of his first-serve points. The Russian moves into Thursday’s third round against No. 21 Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who eliminated No. 38 Alexander Bublik of Kazakhstan, 6-3, 7-5, in an entertaining opening match on the Grandstand.

While nearly all of the men’s seeds won – No. 2 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 3 Alexander Zverev, No. 4 Andrey Rublev, No. 8 Casper Ruud, No. 9 Hubert Hurkacz, No. 10 Diego Schwartzman and No. 12 Felix Auger-Aliassime – and advanced to the third round, there were a few surprises, including losses by No. 11 Jannik Sinner and No. 14 Alex de Minaur.

In the women’s draw, there were plenty of seeds that were upset. Among them were No. 3 Aryna Sabalenka, No. 4 Elina Svitolina, No. 6 Iga Swiatek, No. 7 Bianca Andreescu, No. 13 Jennifer Brady and No. 15 Elise Mertens. Meanwhile, among the seeds advancing and joining Barty and Muguruza in the third round: No. 5 Karolina Pliskova, No. 9 Barbora Krejcikova, No. 10 Belinda Bencic, No. 11 Petra Kvitova and No. 14 Victoria Azarenka as well as No. 2 Naomi Osaka.

Osaka rallies, takes charge against Gauff

No. 2 seed Naomi Osaka won her first WTA tour match since Wimbledon with a comeback 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over No. 24 Coco Gauff that highlighted Center Court action Wednesday afternoon. The one-hour and 53-minute match came down to the deciding set after Gauff won the opener and Osaka, last year’s runner-up, came back strong from a set and a break down at 1-3 to dominate the second half of the second-round match by relying upon her mental focus and mindset.

“This was really a lesson in how to not panic in the middle of the match, how to adjust your game slightly to your strength,” said Tennis Channel analyst Chanda Rubin, who commented on the match for a mostly North American audience. “A set and a break down for Naomi Osaka, she was able to do just that. She started using the big weapon that is her serve, hitting big off the ground. This is just one of many big matchups that we will see this young lady and Coco Gauff, who has acquitted herself well. It was about the poise and experience – and big-match toughness – of Naomi Osaka.”

Osaka, who took a 2-1 lead in their career head-to-head, dropped only one point on her serve in the final set. She closed out the victory with her 11th ace. The Japanese superstar overcame 31 unforced errors by hitting 24 winners and converted three of eight break points against Gauff, who hit 20 winners and 45 unforced errors. The 17-year-old American also committed nine double faults. Osaka outpointed Gauff 92-79 to advance against No. 65 Jill Teichmann of Switzerland, who defeated No. 83 Bernarda Pera of the United States, 6-1, 6-4, in a battle of wild card entrants.

During her on-court interview after the match, Osaka was asked how it felt to be back playing in front of so many adoring fans. She said: “It’s been a really long time for me and I’m really grateful for everyone to come out. I know this was a really good match against Coco. Every time, it’s really tough and I hope everyone enjoyed the match.

“I feel like I’ve changed my mindset a lot. I think even if I lost I would have felt like I was a winner. There’s so much stuff going on in the world – I haven’t watched the news. Now, I’m watching the news recently. I feel like just waking up in the morning is a win.”

Later, during Osaka’s press conference, she expanded on her on-court interview and suggested that she had done a lot of reflection since her pre-tournament media get-together on Monday that drew a lot of attention.

“I was wondering why was I so affected I guess, like what made me not want to do media in the first place,” Osaka said. “And then I was thinking and wondering if I was scared because sometimes I would see headlines of players losing and the headline the next day would be a ‘collapse’ or ‘they’re not great anymore.’ And so then I was think, me waking up every day I should feel like I’m winning. Like the choice to go out there and play, to go see fans that people come out and watch me play, that itself is an accomplishment. And I not sure when along the way I started desensitizing that. Like it started not being like an accomplishment for me. So, I felt like I was very ungrateful on that fact.

“And then, I don’t know. Like I think definitely this whole COVID thing was really stressful with the bubbles and not seeing people, not having, like, interactions. I guess seeing the state of the world, like how everything is in Haiti, how everything is in Afghanistan right now, is definitely really crazy, and for me to just be hitting a tennis ball in the United States right now and have people come and watch me play is, I don’t know, like I would want to be myself in this situation rather than anyone else in the world.”

Kerber goes out of her comfort zone to win

Angelique Kerber continued her summer run of good form by taking out No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, 7-5, 2-6, 6-4, in two hours and nine minutes in the opening match on Center Court. Although the World No. 5 Svitolina had won her seven matches – including the last 11 sets – against the German No. 1 coming in to the match, the 21st-ranked Kerber has now won 12 of her last 13 matches and has reached the round of 16 in her third straight tournament. Svitolina is the highest-ranked player that Kerber has beaten this year. Kerber is back and means business.

“It means a lot. She’s such a tough opponent and she played so well,” Kerber said during her on-court interview on what it meant to finally beat Svitolina. “We both played on a high level. It means a lot to me to win a match like this against a Top 10 player, especially here in Cincinnati. It’s such a great tournament.

“It was important for me to stay in the game after the second set and keep fighting and play every single point.”

Against Svitolina, Kerber went out of her comfort zone and hit 33 winners to offset 43 unforced errors. She converted six of 11 break points against Svitolina, who hit 30 winners but committed 34 unforced errors.

The two-time (2012, 2016) Cincinnati finalist will play Latvia’s 32nd-ranked Jelena Ostapenko in the third round. Ostapenko advanced after No. 13 seed Jennifer Brady of the United States retired during the second set due to a left foot injury. Brady had won the first set 7-6 (2) and trailed 4-5 in the second.

Olympic medalists galore in action

All three men’s singles Olympic medalists – gold medalist Alexander Zverev of Germany, silver medalist Karen Khachanov of Russia and bronze medalist Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, with various degrees of success. The No. 3 seed Zverev needed just 76 minutes to beat No. 46 Lloyd Harris of South Africa, 7-6 (3), 6-2, while Carreño Busta took care of 59th-ranked lucky loser Dominik Koepfer from Germany, 6-4, 6-2. Khachanov lost to No. 12 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime of Canada 5-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4.

Berrettini returns with a bang and a win

In his first action since losing the Wimbledon Championships final early last month, Matteo Berrettini returned to action Tuesday night – with his thigh still wrapped – and chalked up his 33rd win in 40 matches on the season with a 6-7 (5), 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 49 Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain to move into the third round. The No. 5 seed from Italy, who has now won 15 of his past 17 matches and collected two titles (Belgrade, Queen’s Club), hit 25 aces in his win to advance against Felix Auger-Aliassime on Thursday.

“I’m happy for the win,” the World No. 8 from Rome said. “I think I served really well. My strokes from the baseline weren’t working the way I wanted them to, but I knew from the beginning it’s been a long time since I played a match, especially on hard, so I expected to feel a little bit weird.

“But the most important thing was I was there, I fought every point, I tried to put myself in conditions where I could win the match. That’s what I’m most happy about.”

Around the Lindner Family Tennis Center

Wednesday’s Western & Southern Open results

Thursday’s Western & Southern Open order of play

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

“I haven’t. No one has told me anything. No one has made it a mandatory thing to be vaccinated. At some point I will have to, I’m pretty sure about it. But so far, it hasn’t been mandatory to compete, so I haven’t done it, no.”

Stefanos Tsitsipas, asked during Western & Open media day if he’s been vaccinated. He went on to say that it became mandatory he would get vaccinated.

“It’s different. It’s hard to compare experience, because I think at different times in my life maybe some of the experiences that don’t seem so big from the outside mean the most to me. And I think that’s what makes sports so unique is that there is such a deeper meaning behind a lot of matches, behind a lot of certain moments.

“For me, the most enjoyable ones are all the funny things and all the memories that make me smile that happened off the court. A lot of the time it’s more what comes with the experience. The whole Olympic experience, being able to see a few Aussies I hadn’t seen since January, February, was incredible. And obviously to be able to share some of our stories we’ve had over the last three, four months, being able to talk through them and kind of chat to them about it and just hear some Aussie accents made a massive difference.

“So, I think it was an incredible experience but really, really hard to compare to everything else I think because it was so unique.”

Ashleigh Barty, was asked during her media day interview on where the Tokyo Olympics ranked in her career of accomplishments.

CrossCourt drops August 25

The ATP and WTA on Wednesday announced Tennis United: CrossCourt, a continuation of the award-winning digital content series originally released during the 2020 suspended season. The reimagined project marks the first major co-branded initiated to devout since the ATP and WTA integrated marketing operations earlier this year.

Going behind the secedes of life on the ATP and WTA tours through a series of intimate one-on-one conversations between ATP and WTA stars, the eight short-format episodes explore a range of untouched subjects both from within and beyond tennis. Among the subjects: relationships, coaching, mental health, doubles, parenthood, travel, discipline and the locker room.