Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

Upset Sunday: Kerber denied No. 1 by Pliskova, Cilic tops Murray

Ian Johnson/Icon Sportswire

Andy Murray and Angie Kerber, the second ranked players on each tour, looked set to continue their hot streaks and add a big title in Cincinnati, but in an unforeseen pair of results, each was taken out in the final by the flat power of a zoning opponent.

Just one win away from overtaking Serena Williams for World No. 1, Kerber was disturbed by the swirling wind, though it was ultimately Karolina Pliskova who swept her off the court, 6-3, 6-1. While Kerber made a charge to turn 0-4 into 3-4,  Pliskova steadied herself and got back to bossing the Aussie Open champ around and dominating the baseline.

Cincinnati represents the biggest title of Pliskova’s career by far. The 24 year old is known for her poor Slam record (never made it past the third round), but maybe a Premier 5 gets her on the road to cashing in on her potential. Back on the cusp of the top 10 (she’ll be 11th in Monday’s update), she could approach her career-high of seventh with a good showing at the U.S. Open.

As for Kerber, she didn’t get the top spot here but will usurp Williams after New York unless Serena makes the semis and outperforms Kerber. Williams has clinched a tie with Steffi Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks at No. 1 and will beat the record if she fends off Kerber in New York .

On the men’s side, Murray’s fatigue and cold seemed to be less of a factor as the week went along, just in time to be the better rested player after Marin Cilic’s three-set win over Grigor Dimitrov wasn’t completed until after 1 A.M. due to rain.

Instead, Cilic was emotionally alert all afternoon and played an excellent match in terms of clarity. Too often the big hitters, to borrow a baseball analogy, nibble around the strike zone and get too cute. Cilic is a player who – especially against the game’s elite – should be “see ball, hit ball,” and he did just that in storming out to a double break lead, a buffer that proved vital when his one blip of the day came in his first shot at closing out the opening set.

Other than that one break, Cilic was rock solid on serve against an all-time great returner. The second set saw little trouble on either player’s serve through 5-5, when Murray nearly saved 0-40 (with help from Cilic botching an open winner that seemed to be the turning point) but feuded with chair umpire Fergus Murphy, a familiar foe. Murphy handed out a maybe-not-so-coincidental time violation warning and Murray was eventually broken.

There would be no flinching this time from Cilic, who held easily to seal his first Masters 1000 title, followed by easily the most emotional reaction of his career, far surpassing even his U.S. Open victory:


Cilic becomes the first non-Big Four player to win a Masters event since Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in Canada two years ago and the first new Masters champion since Stan Wawrinka at Monte Carlo 2014. He also replaces Novak Djokovic as the youngest player on tour with a Masters trophy, a title Djokovic has held since 2007. At nearly 28, Cilic is now the youngest man to hold either a Masters or a Grand Slam.

The 1000 points from Cincinnati put Cilic back into the top 10 as well as top 10 in the Race to London. He’ll be seeded seventh at the U.S. Open.

For Murray, the loss snapped his career-best 22 match win streak, his first defeat since the Roland Garros final.

Murray had also been 6-0 in Masters finals against players other than Djokovic (5-5) or Rafael Nadal (1-1).

Finally, an interesting doubles story: in their first event since splitting, Martina Hingis and Sania Mirza faced each other in the Cincy final. As if there wasn’t enough intrigue there, the top ranking was on the line. Mirza and new partner Barbora Strycova came from 1-5 down to beat Hingis and Coco Vandeweghe 7-5, 6-4, making Mirza the sole holder of the title of World No. 1.

Upset Sunday: Kerber denied No. 1 by Pliskova, Cilic tops Murray

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