Zverev Wins Western & Southern Open Title In Cincinnati

Alexander Zverev (photo: @CincyTennis/Twitter)

MASON, OHIO/WASHINGTON,  August 23, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Alexander Zverev won his fifth ATP Masters 1000 title and lifted his first Rookwood Cup, the trophy given to the annual winners of the Western & Southern Open in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio, Sunday afternoon. In what has developed into a dream season, Zverev continues to perform genuinely boffo on the court.

The third seed Zverev’s stunning 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 4 seed Andrey Rublev, his best friend since childhood, lasted a mere 59 minutes – the fastest men’s final in tournament history. It was highlight reel material, a coda to a mezmorizing week by the Olympic gold medalist, who has won two straight titles and owns an 11-match winning streak. With the start of the US Open just a week away, Zverev certainly must be feeling very good about the direction of his tennis game.

By winning, Zverev, 24, became the first German to win the Cincinnati Masters title since Boris Becker in 1985. The Western & Southern Open crown was also his 17th ATP Tour-level title.

The World No. 5, who will move up to fourth in the new FedEx ATP Rankings this week, had been zero-for-six – never having won a match in his six previous tournament appearances at the Western & Southern Open before this year. Now, after a run of good fortune – one of the best weeks of his pro career – that included victories over Lloyd Harris, Guido Pella, World No. 11 Casper Ruud and World No. 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas prior to his triumph against the World No. 7 Rublev – Zverev has won his fourth tour-level trophy of the season. His earlier 2021 titles came in Acapulco and Madrid, and at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

“It’s incredible, the first win I ever had on these courts was on Wednesday, four days ago, and now I have my first title here,” Zverev said during an on-court interview before the trophy ceremony. “It has been an incredible week, a lot of great matches. To be honest, it is an incredible feeling going into the US Open now.”

After Zverev secured match point, he raised and pumped his right fist in celebration. Then, he met Rublev at the net, where the two shared a warm, friendly hug.

Zverev’s domination of Rublev, in which he dropped just eight points during his eight service games – winning at a 93 percent success rate on his first serve – also included hitting 16 winners and making just six unforced errors. Four of those came on double faults. He converted five of 10 break points against the Russian and outpointed Rublev 58-36. Meanwhile, although Rublev struck 11 aces, he made more unforced errors (19) than winners (18). Zverev improved to 5-0 against Rublev.

Less than 24 hours earlier, during the semifinals, Zverev was forced to rally from a double break down in the third set to beat Tsitsipas, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (4). On Sunday, Zverev played solid, smart tennis from the outset against Rublev – jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set – and the outcome never seemed in doubt.

“I was playing pretty good tennis,” Zverev said on court. “I did not do a big celebration because I know how Andrey feels as well because we have been best friends since we were 11 years old and I know he is seeking his first Masters 1000 win. But it is going to come very soon, I think.”

Later, during an interview with Tennis Channel, Zverev was asked what in the matchup with Rublev brought out his best tennis. He said: “We’ve played so many times in our life against each other. We’ve been playing since we were 11 years old and we know each other’s games. He’s one of the most powerful players on tour. I know that I have to play my best tennis and that’s the mentality I go into it with. If I don’t play my best tennis, he has the shots to beat anybody. If you go into that mentality that you have to play aggressive yourself, it either works out well or it doesn’t. For me, it did today.”

Rublev remained upbeat despite Sunday’s defeat. “I am grateful for the week that I had,” he said. “I reached another final, my second [Masters 1000] in my career. It is a special place for me with great memories. The final didn’t end my way, but Alexander was playing unbelievably today.”

Zverev was asked if his twin triumphs at the Olympics and in Cincinnati make him a favorite at the US Open. He didn’t take the bait and, instead, said: “I don’t want to get ahead of myself yet. I won the gold medal [at the Olympics] and I just won a Masters, which I am very happy about and am looking forward to New York.”

Indeed, after reaching last year’s US Open final, which he lost to Dominic Thiem in a fifth-set tie-breaker – and with the impending absence of the reigning champion as well as former US Open champions Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal – Zverev returns to New York with momentum and will be among the pre-tournament favorites along with World No. 1 Novak Djokovic, World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev and Tsitsipas.

Granollers/Zeballos win sixth doubles team title

Spain’s Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina won their first Western & Southern Open title with their 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5) victory over Americans Steve Johnson and Austin Krajicek Sunday afternoon.

It was the fourth ATP Masters 1000 trophy for the second-seeded Spanish/Argentine duo and sixth title overall. In the one hour and 54-minute title final, Granollers and Zeballos saved a set point at 5-6 in the first set and rallied from 1-4 in the first-set tie break against Johnson and Krajicek, who were teaming for the first time this season. The victors did not lose a set during their Cincinnati title run.

“We are really happy,” Granollers said during an on-court interview after the championship match. “To win two Masters 1000 titles this year is amazing and shows we are playing really well. I lost on final here, so to win with Zeballos is really nice. I think we are improving as a team every day.”

Earlier this year, Granollers and Zeballos won the Mutua Madrid Open crown to go along with previous Masters 1000 title wins at Montreal in 2019 and at Rome in 2020.

“We played good matches all week against really good doubles players and good singles players, so it is an amazing feeling right now,” Zeballos said. “We said before the final, even if we didn’t win, we would still feel great because we are playing the best.”

By the numbers

• By winning the ATP Masters 1000 Western & Southern Open for the first time, Alexander Zverev is now tied for ninth place for the most Masters 1000 titles won since the series began in 1990. He has five Masters 1000 titles, which ties him with Boris Becker, Jim Courier, Gustavo Kuerten, Marcelo Rios, Andy Roddick and Marat Safin. Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal are tied for first with 36.

• Alexander Zverev is also the first player to win the Western & Southern Open title and an Olympic singles gold medal in the same year since Andre Agassi achieved the feat in 1996.

“Quotable …”

”I have known Andrey since we were 11 years old. We have been pretty much best friends for a long period of time. It’s great to see how long of a way we came and that we are kind of, you know, playing the biggest matches and competing for the biggest titles together.” 

Alexander Zverev, describing his friendship with Andrey Rublev