For the first time since Andre Agassi was still on tour, the ATP has seen three Masters titles in a row won by someone who is not named Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, or Murray. After Zverev conquered Rome and Montreal, a player from the oft-titled ‘Lost Generation’ of the ATP has won his first 1000 – Grigor Dimitrov.
A tournament where Baby Fed’s namesake has so often found success saw, for the first time in years, a set of semifinalists that consisted of no members of the top ten. On a semifinals day on which the ATP tour saw no breaks of serve, Kyrgios and Dimitrov were left standing as two men contesting for the biggest titles of their career. Building on his strong start to the season, which landed him a couple of titles and a 5-set high-wire semifinal defeat to Nadal in Melbourne, Dimitrov was finally able this Sunday to break out of his mid-summer funk to straight-set Kyrgios for the Cincinnati title.
For all the aesthetic appeal of his backhand and serve, and the way his form evokes that of Federer, Dimitrov found a path to the title by playing very much like another member of the Big Four – Andy Murray. Employing his impressive athleticism to defend numerous Kyrgios forehands, Dimitrov found himself unable to miss. Exercising a simple tactic effectively – keeping the ball low to Nick’s shovel-like backhand — the newly crowned Masters champion was able to side-step a flurry of double faults and overcome a barrage of huge second-serves to win by a break in each set.
Kyrgios, to his credit, did not contest poorly. Aggressive on the forehand side, and generally sharp on serve, he was undone by an inability to dig out shots on his backhand wing and an unwillingness to come forward to end points. However, for a player struggling with a hip injury as recently as a week ago, losing in both tournaments to the eventual champion is no small achievement – especially when a win aside from those consists of routining the new world number one.
Ahead of the US Open, Cincinnati has raised a multitude of questions about what might be the most open slam in recent history. Will Zverev, who followed up his back-to-back Masters success with a first round exit, have the fitness to contend in best-of-five? Will Kyrgios be able to overcome his hip to be a factor into the Open’s second week? How will Dimitrov respond to his career-best year, and how will Nadal handle his return to the top spot – achieved with no non-clay titles to his name? All this and more remains to be seen, along with perhaps the question weighing most heavily on the minds of this year’s top performers – the quest for #1.
With Nadal inching ahead to the number one ranking this week, and Murray being shuffled back to #2, the current ATP leader holds the least amount of points of any number one since 2009. Federer’s own quest for the top spot was stopped short in the Montreal final, where the 36-year-old’s body finally caught up with him and caused his back to flare up. The 19-time slam champion, should he recover, will need to make at least the semifinals, outperforming Nadal by a round to have a shot at returning to world number one. Any less, and it’s a toss-up between Rafa and Murray, who are both separated by the finest of margins. Though the race is bound to heat up even more so at the World Tour Finals, the questionable form and fitness of all three contenders this late into the season leaves little to be taken for granted.
Though 2017 seemed in many ways a throwback to 2006, events have transpired in such a way as to breathe new life not only into a new crop of fresh faces, but into an old set of woulda-coulda-shouldas as well. With Zverev and Kyrgios leading the 19-22 year olds, Dimtitrov has emerged as the unlikely achiever of the Raonic/Nishikori generation. Left alone carrying the torch as his peers are hobbled by injury, Grigor has rounded into form just in time for the fast hard courts in New York. In a few weeks, the tennis world might finally see the surge of a new generation, or we might, at last, get a Fedal under the lights on Arthur Ashe. What is a certainty, however, is that Montreal and Cincinnati have been two of the most exciting Masters 1000s in recent memory – and everything that’s happened over the last couple of weeks should have tennis fans unquestionably excited.