Tuesday Preview: Kyrgios Brings Hot Form To Cincinnati
If there’s one thing Nick Kyrgios has never lacked, it’s confidence in his game. Even in what he’s dubbed his “darkest times,” when he even questioned his livelihood, he never lost that self-belief, the knowledge that when he’s on his game he can hold his own against the sport’s elite.
“I could lose five matches in a row and I still believe that I have a chance to beat anyone,” said the 27-year-old Canberran last week in Montreal, where he defeated World No. 1 Daniil Medvedev for the third time in four ATP Head2Heads.
A refocused, reinvigorated Kyrgios again finds himself in Medvedev’s quarter at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, though there are some obstacles standing in the way of a rematch. The Aussie will open with a first-time encounter with Spaniard Alejandro Davidovich Fokina on Tuesday at the Linder Family Tennis Center, and could later face the likes of Taylor Fritz or Andrey Rublev should he advance.
Out to a subpar 4-9 start in 2022, Davidovich Fokina turned his year around in April with a dream run to the first ATP Tour final of his career. It came on the hallowed clay of the Rolex Monte-Carlos Masters, and saw the 22-year-old Andalusian stun the likes of then-top-ranked Novak Djokovic, David Goffin, Fritz and Grigor Dimitrov in reaching the title match, where he finally succumbed to defending champ Stefanos Tsitsipas, 6-3, 7-6(3).
Despite a streak-snapping loss to Pole Hubert Hurkacz in the Montreal quarter-finals, Kyrgios has put himself in a much more favourable position heading into the US Open, where he’ll now be among the seeds. Including his run to his first major final at Wimbledon, Kyrgios reeled off nine consecutive wins, including the title match in Washington, and won 15 of 17 matches to bring his Pepperstone ATP Ranking up to No. 28.
Medvedev, the Cincinnati titlist in 2019, will battle it out with Rafael Nadal this week for World No. 1, as Nadal has an opportunity to reclaim the position for the first time since January 2020. The 2013 champ could pull it off if he again wins the title and Medvedev fails to reach the quarter-finals. The outcome will determine the top seed at Flushing Meadows.
First up for Medvedev is Western & Southern Open debutant Botic van de Zandschulp, who has achieved a new career-high ranking 12 times in 2022, peaking at No. 24 in July. He got the best of the Dutchman in the quarter-finals of the 2021 US Open, 6-3, 6-0, 4-6, 7-5, later claiming the first major of his career. He again prevailed against van de Zandschulp in the third round of the 2022 Australian Open, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2.
“For sure [I] want to try to win as many matches as possible here to grow this confidence of winning matches for the US Open,” said Medvedev, who begins his 13th week at World No. 1, passing Boris Becker on the all-time leaderboard. “But we’ll take it match by match. As we see in the draw, I feel that the draw is very, very packed. Sometimes you have somebody retiring here and there, somebody tired from the season, maybe not in the best shape here. When I look at the draw I’m like, ‘Wow, every match we have, even in the first round, is a tough match.’”
The Tuesday lineup will also showcase: Fritz vs. Sebastian Baez, Jannik Sinner vs. qualifier Thanasi Kokkinakis, Carlos Alcaraz vs. wildcard Mackenzie McDonald, and an all-American tussle between Tommy Paul and Jenson Brooksby.
Alcaraz is still growing accustomed to his success. Seeded No. 2 last week at the National Bank Open in Montreal, he was ousted in the first round by Paul, 6-7(4), 7-6(7), 6-3, later confiding that the pressure, the expectations got to him.
“It was the first time that I felt that pressure, and I couldn’t handle it,” said the 19-year-old Spaniard.
Seeded No. 3 in Cincinnati, he says he’s now “trying to use the pressure in my favour.” He already owns ATP Masters 1000 titles this year in Miami and Madrid, and could jump from No. 4 to No. 2 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings should he go on to claim the title this week.