By Mark Brown
Cincinnati Herald Contributor
Dimitrov takes men’s spotlight: For just a moment the men’s side of the Western & Southern Open experienced the ills of the domino effect—as several of the top ATP players pulled out the tournament with injuries. Mainstays like Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Gael Monfils and Roger Federer, along with last year’s champion Marin Cliic were all a no-go before the tournament began. The mass exodus, while legitimate and understood, certainly was a disappointment— not only to the established field but to the tennis fan base as well. However, in sports it’s always next man up! That left a somewhat reduced field of star power—with the exception of #1 seed Rafael Nadal. But one man’s injury is another man’s opportunity! Great talents like Nick Kyrgios, John Isner, Grigor Dimitrov and David Ferrer…. now was their moment to shine. But opportunity is only relevant if you take advantage of it…. also, if Nadal would allow you to shine in his spotlight? Well Kyrgios didn’t get the memo that it was Nadal’s tournament to lose, upsetting the favored Spaniard in straight sets, 6/2, 7/5. That left a final four of Isner, Kyrgios, Ferrer, and Dimitrov. From there it became a literal game of toss up- as to who would survive to the final round . Dimitrov cleared the way on his side of the ledger by edging out American favorite Isner, while Kyrgios equally took out Ferrer. While a Kyrgios/Dimitrov final is not what would have been predicted from the start the two men embraced the opportunity battling the elements (90+ degree heat), and energizing the supportive audience on center court. Within a 1 hour 25 minutes it was settled– as Dimitrov dismissed the hard serving Australian (Kyrgios) in straight sets 6/3, 7/5. A native of Bulgaria, a humble Dimitrov shook hands with a contingent of fans as he exited the court to a rousing applause. It was his first Master 1000 championship. Later he acknowledged the nerves of closing out a match against a tough opponent like Kyrgios. “Moments like that there is just so many things going through your head. You don’t even think about the win. I wish I was thinking, oh wow, I’m going to have a trophy or something. You think like, God, I just need to put the ball in the court. It’s so simple but the weight on your shoulder and your arm multiples by a lot.” Dimitrov came into the W&S Open as the #7 overall seed.
Muguruza cruises to women’s title: While the fallout of injuries was not as pervasive on the women’s side as the men’s , with no Serena onboard, odds landed in the favor of world #1 Karolina Pliskova, #2 Simona Halep and #4 Garbine Muguruza to battle for the W&S Open title. No one saw wildcard entry, Sloane Stephens creeping up in their rearview. Stephens, a former top twenty player fell off the WTA map after foot surgery, but recently resurrected her career with a surprising semifinal appearance at the Rogers Cup. She duplicated her semis performance here in Cincinnati, only to have her momentum stalled when she squared- off against the consistency of Halep–losing in straight sets 6/2, 6/1. That left a showdown between Halep and Muguruza, who dispatched the favored Pliskova, to decide the W&S women’s championship. A focused Muguruza must have had a plane warming-up on the runway at CVG, and was paying by the hour. With an urgency often unseen at this level she closed her finals match out versus the higher ranked Halep in a blistering 56 minutes (6/1, 6/0) — leaving a somewhat stunned crowd virtually speechless. Afterwards, the native of Spain spoke to her focus and strategy. “Since the first ball I knew there was going to be a lot of long rallies. She (Halep) is a very solid player and very tough. I was ready for it. I was looking to play my game…to be aggressive since the first moment.” Capturing her first championship on American soil, Muguruza also has two grand slam titles to her credit—the 2016 French Open and Wimbledon 2017.