Ears across men’s tennis surely pricked up upon hearing news of Novak Djokovic’s withdrawal from the 2021 Cincinnati Masters. While the world number one’s ‘Golden Slam’ hopes were ended at the Tokyo Olympics, where he failed to pick up a medal, the Serbian is very much the sport’s dominant force at this moment in time. His absence in Cincinnati opens up the draw for a number of others.
Last year’s Cincinnati Masters final produced a matchup between Djokovic and Milos Raonic, but neither will be present at the tournament this year, with the latter ruled out through a heel injury. Djokovic will most likely be at the US Open later this month. Roger Federer won’t participate in Cincinnati with a knee injury, and Rafael Nadal is also out with a foot injury.
For the first time since 2001, neither Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal nor Novak Djokovic will play in Cincinnati.
— Gaspar Ribeiro Lança (@gasparlanca) August 11, 2021
Cincinnati is a crucial stop on the route to the final Grand Slam of the year. Indeed, it’s at this point, with the American hard court swing under way after the Washington Open, that those with hopes of going far at the US Open look to build momentum. The Flushing Meadows favourites will be largely determined by what happens here.
As the world number two, Daniil Medvedev arrives in Cincinnati as the ATP Masters 1000 tournament’s highest-ranked player. There’s just something about the American hard courts that bring the best out of the Russian who relishes the back-and-forth interaction with the often outspoken Stateside crowds.
Sascha Zverev, emboldened by winning a gold medal in the men’s singles at Tokyo 2020, will hope to use the Cincinnati Masters to push himself towards a first Grand Slam title at the US Open. Hard courts suit the German’s powerful game, as does the best of three-seat format (see what happened at the Olympics).
Last week saw Jannik Sinner claim his biggest title to date, with the Italian teenager winning the Washington Open. The 19-year-old now sits at a career-high ranking of 15 and could make an impact in Cincinnati if he decides to play (Sinner also played in the Canada Open this week, where he made the round of 32, so could decide to skip the Cincinnati Masters in order to rest up).
While there will likely be some call-offs in the days preceding the start of the tournament, Cincinnati will welcome a whole host of world class players. Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev, Matteo Berrettini and Denis Shapovalov are all capable of going all the way at this ATP Masters 100 event with others like Felix Auger-Aliassime, Hubert Hurkacz and Pablo Carreno Busta also dangerous.
Next Stop ➡️ Cincinnati Masters pic.twitter.com/rNwZqExcYp
— LTA (@the_LTA) August 4, 2021
On the women’s side of the tournament, top seed Ashleigh Barty will participate, but there will be no sign of Serena Williams after she joined Djokovic, Federer and Nadal in pulling out of the Cincinnati Masters through injury. This was after world number four Sofia Kenin, currently suffering from a foot injury, also withdrew from the Premier 5 event.
Naomi Osaka is still slated to take part, although it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if the world number two takes some time to rest ahead of the US Open, where she often produces her best tennis. Osaka has recently spoken publicly about her mental health troubles and could use this time to prepare for the final Grand Slam of 2021 after an extremely disappointing showing at her home Olympics.
Aryna Sabalenka has grown into the 2021 season as it has progressed with the 23-year-old making the semi-finals at Wimbledon only last month. The Belarusian’s intensity marks her out from the rest and if she can continue to channel her natural aggression and power in the right way, Sabalenka could be a real force here and at the US Open.
Serena Williams on withdrawing from Cincinnati, where she is a two times champion (2014, 2015):
"I am still in recovery from my leg injury at Wimbledon. I will miss all of my fans in Cincinnati. I plan to be back on the court very soon."
— José Morgado (@josemorgado) August 11, 2021
Djokovic has dominated men’s tennis in 2021, but it’s been a very different story in the women’s game. Three different players (Osaka, Barbora Krejcikova and Barty) have won the three Grand Slam titles with the season ebbing and flowing as a number of players have made their mark and collected silverware. Women’s tennis has been unpredictable for a number of years, but it might be as unpredictable as ever before right now.
It’s quite clear that women’s tennis is in the midst of a generational transition, though. There won’t be a player over 30 in the top 10 seeds for the 2021 Cincinnati Masters with Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka (both 31) relative veterans of the field. With every passing tournament, rivalries are growing deeper at the top end of the women’s game and that can only be a good thing for the storytelling aspect of the sport.
Nonetheless, an underdog could still push through. While Danielle Collins (ranked at 44) might not be among the most obvious contenders to go far in the women’s singles at the Cincinnati Masters, the American is currently in the form of her life having won the first ATP 500 title of her career in San Jose last week. This comes after strong form through the clay and grass court season, and so Collins shouldn’t be taken lightly as a challenger.
From Bianca Andreescu, who is fit again and starting to find form, to Iga Swiatek, who has the potential to join the likes of Barty and Osaka at the very top of the women’s game, to even the likes of Ons Jabeur, who is reaching new heights, and Coco Gauff, a future superstar in the making, there are few at this year’s Cincinnati Masters not targeting a run into the latter rounds.
The American swing of the season can be rather volatile. It’s at this stage of the year, with so much tennis already played, that injuries and fitness can start to take a toll. There’s a reason the US Open, at least on the men’s side, has produced the most varied champions (six) of any of the four Slams over the last nine years. That could be reflected in the performances and results produced at the Cincinnati Masters.