An anticipated weekend in Cincinnati began mostly with a thud on Saturday, thanks to three less-than-stellar matches and a fourth that was nearly rained out, resulting in the tennis version of #WeirdBaseball.
The WTA took the day session, starting with Garbine Muguruza vs Karolina Pliskova. Muguruza furthered her growing reputation as the WTA’s Stan Wawrinka by misfiring early and often, a surprising turn after an easy hold to begin the match. From there, things completely unraveled for the French Open champion, as she lost six straight games, at times barely even able to keep the ball in the court or kick a serve in.
Pliskova, not the most consistent of players herself, did well to play within herself and let Muguruza continue to implode. The second set was more competitive, but again Pliskova was the better of the two, rolling 6-1, 6-3. It’s the second career Premier Mandatory/5 final for the 24 year old Czech, who beat Muguruza in a much tighter semifinal last year in Dubai before losing to Simona Halep.
Speaking of Halep, she looked to continue her 13 match winning streak at the expense of Angie Kerber. With two elite returners, it was no surprise each player had broken twice by the time rain hit at 4-3 Kerber in the first set. Truly a toss-up match at that point, it was anything but afterwards. Following the delay, Halep started spraying errors all over the court, even with her usually-steady backhand. Kerber stormed to a 6-3, 4-0 lead, and though Halep rallied to have break point for 4-all in the second, the German pulled through 6-3, 6-4 in a higher quality match than their bizarre Montreal match a few weeks ago.
That means Kerber is officially on the doorstop of becoming the number one player in the world. With a win over Pliskova, Kerber will pass Serena Williams, who has held the top spot for 183 consecutive weeks, three shy of tying Steffi Graf’s record. Kerber would be just the third woman out of 22 to hit No. 1 as a lefty (Navratilova, Seles).
On the men’s side, the conditions were just right for Milos Raonic to breakthrough and win his first Masters title, but again he was thwarted by the game’s elite. Despite Murray being exhausted from all the tennis and travel this month, Raonic actually regressed from his efforts in Queen’s and Wimbledon. Though the Canadian couldn’t break Murray’s serve in that Wimbledon final, he was only broken once himself. Here, Murray broke immediately and bookended the first set with another. Raonic had chances in the match, but ruined some strong defensive efforts on marathon points by dumping second serve returns into the net as Murray took a routine 6-3, 6-3 match.
Murray’s lone scare of the night? When he kicked a ball that nearly made contact with chair umpire Damien Dumusois, who wasn’t enthused:
Raonic solidified his hold on the third spot in the year-to-date rankings but came one round shy of moving to third in the rolling rankings. As a result, he remains in sixth and was unable to swipe Rafa Nadal’s top four seed for the U.S. Open (who has it as a result of Roger Federer not playing).
In Sunday’s final, Murray will face familiar foe Marin Cilic after the Croat was able to somehow pull through in a strange late night match against Grigor Dimitrov. With both seeking their first career Masters final, Dimitrov was the stronger player early on and twice held a break advantage in the third. Cilic was able to quickly erase both breaks and nosed ahead with a break at 5-all that he was able to consolidate, unlike Dimitrov.
It’s another tough loss in a year full of them for Dimitrov, but going quarters in Canada and semis in Cincy is a nice building block for reversing his momentum and regaining his confidence, not to mention his ranking, which is back in the top 25 in time for U.S. Open seeding. Cilic also gets a nice bump in that department, as he’s moved ahead of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga to nab the top eight seed vacated by Tomas Berdych’s appendicitis-induced withdrawal.