The tennis bandwagon is round the corner for the final Grand Slam of the year. After crossing Montreal, Canada with some great matches it is currently treading in Cincinnati with another Masters 1000 title for the taking.
But, it's not just the title - there's plenty more at stake. Ranking points, match practice before the US Open, a place to be the top 8 in order to qualify for World Tour Finals, psychological edge over the rivals and of course, the reputations. All the big names are present in the Cincinnati draw, fine tuning their preparations for the coming Slam. Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova, the notable absentees from Montreal Canada due to injuries, are back in the mix.
Though these tournaments are lesser in stature compared to Grand Slams and best of three in nature, their importance cannot be undermined in the least. They may not be the clear indicators of possible winners in the coming Slam but they give a fair idea of the current form and mindset of the players. So far in the women's draw, the top seed and prime pick of all experts, Serena Williams continues to roll. She quite easily swept the field to get her hands on the title in Montreal and there is no seemingly visible obstacle to her run at Cincinnati and the US Open. Maria Sharapova, with Jimmy Connors in her box, has lost the opening round match to Sloane Stephens in Cincinnati. That coupled with the absence in Montreal, is not the best way she would like to get into the Grand Slam.
In the men's section also, the winner at Montreal, Rafael Nadal is playing some of his best tennis on the hardcourts. His win over Novak Djokovic in the semis at Montreal and the title has made people forget his first round loss at Wimbledon and he suddenly seems to be leading the pack. Even otherwise, with the exception of Wimbledon, he has played flawless since his return from injury in February this year.
As Nadal returned more aggressively from the baseline returning to being World No 3, Novak Djokovic continue to lose the stranglehold he had on Nadal in 2011. He need to find some answers here at Cincy to give himself a better chance at the US Open. Though both Djokovic and Murray lost before the finals in Montreal, Murray is freshly confident from his Wimbledon win. Having said that, he has always struggled against Nadal in the past and hasn't got a chance to face off his nemesis for quite a long time now. He'll have to confront that question sooner or later.
The resurgent Juan Martin Del Potro, victimized by losing a key point (and the match) to Raonic's dishonesty and Chair Umpire's miss, is better than last year but is yet to go the distance on holding the trophies. He seem to lose just when everybody starts taking him seriously to threaten the quartet and win his first Masters 1000. Yet, he's up there with the big four.
While, Del Potro is moving up, Roger Federer is struggling to hold on to even his current fifth spot. Being a defending champion at Cincinnati, if he doesn't reach the Semi's here he'll be falling even further deteriorating his Grand Slam chances even further with tricky draws. To top the cherry of his problems, a possible Nadal clash in the Quarter Final awaits him should both reach there. Even without looking at his record against Rafa, Federer's current form saw him losing to 3 players outside of top 50 at Wimbledon, Hamburg and Gstaad while the problematic back made him sit out Montreal altogether.
With all this to deal with at once, Roger Federer's experimentation with a 98" Wilson prototype is officially over - at least for now. He's back in Cincy with the 90" Wilson pro staff wand and has confirmed to keep it till the US Open. Having won the US Open five times in a row, he hasn't held it for the last four years. At 32, the odds are stacked against him.
At Cincy, each of the players are keen to be as ready as possible giving themselves the best chance to come out on the top. While Serena is far ahead in the WTA contenders race; at the ATP Nadal, Murray and Djokovic, in that order, are going strong with Del Potro and Federer lurking pretty far behind.
Will this week supplement us with any possible alterations in this scheme of things? Watch it out for yourself!