Fifth Time’s Right For Rublev Against Medvedev, Into Second ATP Masters 1000 Final

Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON, August 22, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Russia’s Andrey Rublev had never taken a set let alone win a match against countryman Daniil Medvedev in four previous meetings. That all changed in his fifth attempt at the Western & Southern Open in the Cincinnati suburbs on Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the fourth seed Rublev’s 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory, he’s into his second ATP Masters 1000 final and Medvedev, the tournament’s top seed, is out and denied an opportunity to repeat his 2019 success. The loss on Center Court at the Lindner Family Tennis Center ended the World No. 2 Medvedev’s eight-match winning streak.

The World No. 7 Rublev hit 22 winners to offset his 39 unforced errors and outpointed Medvedev 94-91. Meanwhile, Medvedev countered with eight aces and 25 winners, and committed 34 unforced errors. A turning point in the match came when Medvedev ran into a court side camera as he chased down a Rublev return in the third game of the second set. He then kicked the camera before being treated for an injury to his left hand. Medvedev never seemed the same afterward.

In his on-court interview after winning, Rublev summed up his accomplishment in beating the World No. 2 Medvedev, the highest-ranked player he’s beaten this year, to graduating from college. “It’s like you pass university and they give you a diploma,” he said with a smile.

The No. 4 seed Rublev, who lost to Medvedev in the 2019 Western & Southern Open quarterfinals and more recently fell to him at the Australian Open in February, rallied in the final two sets of the two-hour and 22-minute semifinal to improve to 1-4. It took 15 minutes with eight deuces and five break points for Rublev to get the break for 5-3 in the second. Once he did, it seemed to turn the tenor of the match in his favor going forward.

“Even when I was 2-6 down, the score should not have been like this because the points were so tight,” Rublev added. “The match was so intense, so many long rallies, super tough, super physical, super mental. A lot like a chess match.

“Medvedev is one of those players who won’t give you a chance to attack, but if I have enough power and choose the right moment, I have to be the only to make him run. In the end, I was trying to find the perfect moment ot start being more aggressive to open the angles.

“It gives me more confidence that I can compete against him. There are still so many things to improve.”

After reaching his first Masters 1000 final earlier this year at Monte-Carlo, losing to Stefanos Tsitsipas, he will face No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s title match looking to win his first title at this level.

Back from the brink, Zverev guts out victory over Tsitsipas

From the impossible to the improbable to the inevitable, No. 3 seed Alexander Zverev gutted out an astonishing 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas that was filled with plenty of drama and aggro – and excitement, too – stretched over the duration of the two hours and 41 minutes it took to play the second men’s semifinal. It was a match in which the momentum swung both ways.

After splitting the first two sets, the Tokyo Olympics gold medalist Zverev found himself dug deep in a hole, trailing by a double break at 1-4. Somehow, the German found the resolve to play through an upset stomach and – as he regained his energy – turned the third set around by winning five of the next six games to push ahead 6-5. Then, Tsitsipas rebounded to hold serve at the conclusion of a 12-point game to force a deciding tie break. Soon, Zverev pushed ahead 6-3 in the tie break and won it on his second match-point opportunity after the Greek rising star sailed the 13th shot in the final rally long. The victory advanced Zverev to his first Cincinnati Masters final.

During his on-court interview after the victory, in which he described the comeback he mounted in the final set, Zverev said: “After the first break, I thought I had a chance and I felt he wasn’t serving bombs and that I was in the rallies. It was a little bit of the mentality that I had against Novak at the Olympics.”

Later, during an interview on Tennis Channel, Zverev added: “It’s a great rivalry, there is a lot of fire and emotion there. And before the US Open, we didn’t want to give each other anything, which is what the match showed.

“Look, it was a great battle and the last matches we have played have been like that.”

Zverev fired 15 aces and collected 42 winners to offset his 38 unforced errors. He won 71 percent (52 of 73) of his first-serve points and converted four of five break-point opportunities against Tsitsipas, who hit 10 aces and 30 winners to 34 unforced errors. He broke Zverev four times in eight tries. Points were even at 105 each.

Although Tsitsipas leads the career head-to-head 6-3 – including being on the winning side a five-set semifinal thriller at this year’s French Open – Zverev has won two of their three meetings this year, including the title match at Acapulco on a hard court. “It’s always great to play Stefanos,” Zverev said.

“After what we have just witnessed in front of us, ‘pure nonsense, pure wisdom,’ said the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and that is what we have just seen,” Tennis Channel commentator Mark Petchey mused at the conclusion of his broadcast. “Zverev miraculously wins the match. It never looked likely half way through the third set.”

Barty’s victory over Kerber was no walk in the park

World No. 1 and top seed Ashleigh Barty’s pathway to reach the title match at the Western & Southern Open in Mason, Ohio, this week has seen her face a pair of former No. 1 players. First, Barty swept past No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the third round, then in Saturday’s semifinal round, she faced another former No. 1 in Angelique Kerber. The two have some shared history, but this year it’s been Barty who has found her way and balance.

Barty, who is in her 89th week overall (82nd consecutive week) as the No. 1-ranked player in the world, showed why she’s the best against the No. 22 Kerber. After defeating the three-time major champion last month in the semifinals en route to winning her second major at the Wimbledon Championships, Barty backed it up with a 6-2, 7-5 victory to reach Sunday’s title match in the WTA 1000-series event. She’s yet to drop a set in her four victories on the fast hard courts at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.

Under sunny (82º Farenheit) and hot conditions, Barty started strong with two of her 12 aces in her first service game against the German No. 1. Then, at 3-2, the Aussie hit a crafty drop shot to break Kerber at love for a 4-2. Quickly, she consolidated the break with some really sound tennis and closed out the opening set 6-2 on her third set-point opportunity with a backhand winner – her 13th winner of the set – that finished a 12-shot rally. Barty came on strong by winning the final four games of the 27-minute first set.

Next, Barty wasted little time in jumping out to a set and a break lead by breaking Kerber in the German lefty’s first service game for a 2-0 advantage. Kerber broke back and held to level the second set at 2-all, then broke Barty again to win her third straight game for a 3-2 lead. Next, Barty leveled the set with another break of Kerber, and at 5-all, she held with a nifty but assertive backhand-slice drop shot. Finally, Barty wasted little time in breaking Kerber for the fifth time in eight opportunities to close out the victory in one hour and 15 minutes.

“It’s never ever a walk in the park against Angie. She’s an exceptional competitor,” Barty said of Kerber during her on-court interview after the match. “I think early on in the second set, she lifted [her game] and went to another gear. It took me a few games to go with her. I think that was the change. She was able to lift her game and even in the close games, she won the big points early in the second set. I’m glad I was able to find a way through there in the end.”

Barty finished the semifinal victory with 29 winners to offset 18 unforced errors outpointed Kerber 69-51. Kerber hit 16 winners but committed 21 unforced errors. She converted two of four break-point opportunities.

Asked what she was most pleased with in her game, Barty said: “I had to find a balance of being aggressive and not getting too passive and letting Angie dictate. She moved exceptionally well and put the ball in difficult positions. I felt like when I was able to control the court, I did a better job. In the games I got broken, she saw too many second serves and was able to be assertive. I think to get through in the end and be fighting for a title in Cincinnati is awesome.”

The Western & Southern Open represented Barty’s tour-leading sixth time she’s reached the semifinal round this season and now she’s into her sixth final. Her 39th win pushed her ahead of Aryna Sabalenka for most victories on tour this season. As for Kerber, by reaching her third straight semifinal, she’s guaranteed of returning to the Top 20 at No. 17 heading toward the US Open.

Later, during an interview with Tennis Channel, Barty expressed her appreciation with the crowds that have turned out to see her play this week. “It’s been incredible,” she said. “It makes it so much more enjoyable for us knowing that hopefully with a really good match, we’re putting smiles on people’s faces. I think that for what’s been a really tough month for the whole world, for everyone to be here and enjoy everyone’s company and enjoy some good tennis has been really fun.”

New kid on the block Teichmann does it, again

Meanwhile, the new kid on the block has been Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann – and what a week it’s been for her to remember. The 24-year-old Swiss lefty is the lowest-ranked semifinalist on the WTA tour since 2017, who this week has upset World No. 2 Naomi Osaka and Tokyo Olympics gold medalist and 12th-ranked Belinda Bencic in back-to-back matches.

On Saturday, the 76th-ranked wild card born in Barcelona added 2016 Western & Southern Open semifinalist Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic to the casualty list of upsets – her second Top Five opponent in the WTA 1000 event. Teichmann won, 6-4, 6-4, in an hour and 22 minutes to reach the biggest final of her career.

“I’m feeling really, really good. I like the conditions. I’m serving good, I’m moving well,” Teichmann said during her on-court interview. “I’m just feeling it. I cannot describe it.”

What does it do for her confidence? “It’s a dream, I’m playing center court – a final – against the World No. 1. I can’t ask for anything else,” Teichmann said, beaming a smile.

How good has Teichmann been this year? Consider this: she’s now 4-0 against Top 10 players and in beating Pliskova, it was her third consecutive win over a Top 20 player.

Teichmann’s brilliant serving and her willingness to play serve and volley contributed to her success. She garnered eight aces and hit 27 winners to 20 unforced errors, and saved six of seven break points. The Swiss No. 3 converted four of nine break points against Pliskova, who only managed 10 winners while racking up 26 unforced errors. Teichmann outpointed Pliskova 71-56.

After securing match point over the former World No. 1 Pliskova, Teichmann returned to the court and waved her arms up and down in celebration while trying to excite the crowd further. She was thrilled to soak in the applause.

“You gotta love the reaction for Jil Teichmann,” said Tennis Channel analyst Lindsay Davenport, who won the Western & Southern Open women’s title in 2004. “Wild card to get into the tournament has now made her way through to the biggest final of her career. I love everything about how she has competed all week on court and handled the big moments. It’s not easy to have the biggest win of your career and then follow it up with two incredibly well-played matches. It will be interesting to see what Teichmann comes up with to try and trouble [Ashleigh] Barty in the final.”

While Teichmann has reached her fourth WTA singles final, it’s her first above the WTA 250 plateau. Two years ago, she won a pair of clay-court titles in Prague and Palermo. Then, after the return of the WTA tour from the pandemic shutdown last August, Teichmann was a finalist on a hard court at Lexington, Ky., that was won by Jennifer Brady. Against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, whom she will be meeting for the first time, Teichmann will be chasing after her third WTA singles title and first at the WTA 1000 level.

Granollers/Zeballos reach fourth Masters 1000 team final

With No. 1 seed Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, both of Croatia, eliminated during Friday’s quarterfinals, No. 2 seeds Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina are the team to beat. On Saturday, they reached their fourth ATP Masters 1000 team final with a 6-3, 6-4 win over unseeded Fabio Fognini of Italy and Marcelo Areval-Gonzalez of Slovenia.

In Sunday’s final, Granollers and Zeballos will play American wild cards Steve Johnson and Austin Krajicek, who upset No. 3 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both of Columbia, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (8), 10-3.

Stosur/Zhang win women’s doubles title

Unseeded Samantha Stosur of Australia and Zhang Shuai of China won the Western & Southern Open women’s doubles title Saturday evening with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over No. 6 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski of Canada and Luisa Stefani of Brazil. It was the third team title for Stosur and Zhang and first since winning the 2019 Australian Open.

Stosur and Zhang  converted four of 11 break points and outpointed their opponents 64-56. The final was their only win of their five this week that was achieved in straight sets.

Saturday’s Western & Southern Open results

Sunday’s Western & Open order of play

The Way Back Machine / Aug. 21, 2006 – Martina Navratilova

By the numbers

For the sixth time in ATP Masters 1000 history – and first since the 2019 Shanghai Masters – the top four seeds all made it to the semifinals: No. 1 Daniil Medvedev, No. 2 Stefanos Tsitsipas, No. 3 Alexander Zverev and No. 4 Andrey Rublev.

“Quotable …”

“I think [the depth] is exceptionally strong. The way the women’s game is now has forced me to be a better player every time I step on the court. It’s a challenge I enjoy the most, trying to improve every single day. I knew each time I go out there I try to play my best tennis. I not necessarily going to win every single match, but I know if I play in the right way I’ll enjoy it no matter what. I think that’s brought a lot more enjoyment into my life as a person and as a tennis player. Every single opponent you play forces you to play your best. The level of depth in the women’s game is awesome.”

– Ashleigh Barty, during a Tennis Channel interview Saturday on the current depth of women’s tennis on the WTA tour.