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ATP Cincinnati: Zverev, Tsitsipas and Nishikori suffer opening round exits as bottom half continues to open up

Leye Aduloju in ATP Tour 15 Aug 2019
  • Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka were among the major casualties in an upset-ridden day at the Cincinnati Masters
  • Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic continue to lead the way in the top-half, while Roberto Bautista-Agut is the highest ranked player in the bottom half
Alexander Zverev. (Photo by: Paul Chiasson)

Top-ten stars, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev and Kei Nishikori all crashed out of the Western and Southern Open on Wednesday, while three-time major winner, Stan Wawrinka also joined the casualty list on a day of upsets in Cincinnati.

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The bottom half had already lost Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem to fatigue and illness respectively, and the exits of Nishikori and Zverev mean world No. 11, Roberto Bautista-Agut is the highest-ranked player left in that part of the draw.

The top half, by contrast, features the legendary duo of Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, Paris Masters champion, Karen Khachanov, and the in-form Daniil Medvedev. That half hasn't been totally immune from the upset bug, with Tsitsipas and Wawrinka crashing out on Wednesday. Wawrinka, who could have faced Federer in the third round, was beaten in straight sets by Andrey Rublev.

After a terrific first half of the year, during which he beat Roger Federer en route the semi-finals of the Australian Open, won titles in Marseille and Estoril, and reached the final in Dubai (a result which took him into the top ten for the first time), Stefanos Tsitsipas is just beginning to lose his way a bit, as he has now failed to cross the opening round in four of his last six tournaments.

The Greek young gun is also winless in Cincinnati, as he had fallen to David Goffin on debut last season. In truth, an opening round meeting with hard-hitting German, Jan-Lennard Struff was always going to be challenging, and it was a challenge Tsitsipas wasn't up to, as he fell 6-4 6-7 7-6 to the inspired German. The explosive Struff was near- flawless as he powered to a 6-4 5-4 lead, but he faltered for the first time while serving for the match, and Tsitsipas pounced with produced with a beauty of backhand to get the break back on his first break point of the match, before going on to take the set on a tie break. 

The final set also went into a tie break, but despite fighting back from 3-6 to 6-6, Tsitsipas could not find a route over the line as Struff secured his second victory over the Greek this season, having also won their earlier encounter on the clay of Barcelona.

Struff out-aced Tsitsipas 16-14, winning 85% of points on his first serve, and 62% on his second in a fantastic serving performance. The 29-year-old continues to enjoy the best season of his career, and will seek a maiden Masters 1000 quarter final when he plays the in-form Daniil Medvedev on Thursday.

“It was a great match, he is such a good player,” Struff said after beating Tsitsipas. “I managed to win in Barcelona [in April], so I knew I had a good chance. I had a chance to serve it out at 6-4, 5-4, but he broke back and that’s the quality he has. The quality I had today was coming back from that: the chance to win the match in two sets, then at 6/3 in the [third set] tie-break and then from 6/6. He was playing very well. I was telling myself, ‘I have to go for it, otherwise I won’t win.'" 
"I've been working hard with my team, on my fitness, and it’s all finally paying off and I’m playing with greater consistency.”

Nishikori and Zverev were the big casualties from the bottom half, as both fell to qualifiers to continue their dismal record in Cincinnati. Nishikori was the first to depart on Wednesday, losing 7-6 6-4 to fellow Japanese, Yoshihito Nishioka in the first match on Grandstand. The former US Open finalist struggled with illness during the match, and required medical attention on two occasions, but that took nothing away from a fine performance from the less heralded Japanese. Nishikori has now lost successive opening round matches, as he had also fallen at the first hurdle (to Richard Gasquet) in Montreal last week. The world No. 5 is now 4-6 in Cincinnati, where he's never gone beyond the third round.

Nishikori appeared to have wrestled back control of the contest when he broke for 4-3 in the second set, but Nishioka broke back immediately, starting a run of three straight game that eventually took him to victory.

"It was a tough match for me," said Nishikori, as he reflected on the defeat. "I think he played good tennis. Served well... [It is] good to see he's getting stronger, growing up... [The] past two weeks, I'm having [a] tough [time] to breathe, some reason. I've got to go check."

While Nishikori's record in Cincinnati isn't great, he is a lot better than Alexander Zverev in that regard, as the German is still seeking his first win in Cincinnati after five visits. Zverev slid to 0-5 in the tournament following defeat to Serbian qualifier, Miomir Kecmanovic. He played a big role in his own downfall, as he sent down 20 double faults- a personal high for the struggling German.

The 6-7 6-2 6-4 defeat is the latest poor result in a disappointing 2019 for Zverev, whose only title so far was at the ATP 250 meet in Geneva. He made the final in Acapulco, while his only other semi-final appearance was at his home event in Hamburg. The German is now 28-15 for the season, and has been well short of the form that saw him win the Nitto ATP Finals and reach No. 3 last season.

He is now in serious danger of missing out on this year's season-ending Finals, as he is currently 10th on the ATP's Race to London. 

His conqueror, the 19-year-old Kecmanovic will break into the top 50 for the first time following this Cincinnati run, and he will now attempt to reach a second Masters 1000 quarter final when he faces Roberto Bautista-Agut on Wednesday.

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ATP Cincinnati: Zverev, Tsitsipas and Nishikori suffer opening round exits as bottom half continues to open up

Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka were among the major casualties in an upset-ridden day at the Cincinnati Masters

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