August 22, 2021

Waiting in the Wings

I admit I've been somewhat actively ignoring the steady ascent of Alexander Zverev over the last year or so for various reasons, but while I've been trying to focus my attention elsewhere, it's becoming increasingly hard to deny the fifth-ranked German's emergence as one of the top contenders for the last Major title of the year.

He, of course, made a pretty strong case for himself last year -- back when his biggest offense was his rather cavalier attitude to COVID protocols. Playing in his first Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, he ran off to a two-set-to-love lead against Dominic Thiem and seemed poised to upset the Austrian's fourth attempt at capturing that big trophy. He came up short that time of course, but continued to plough through in the new season, so nearly getting to the final in Paris, somehow battling from two sets down to Stefanos Tsitsipas in the semis to force a decider.

But it's been on the hard courts where he's really shined. At the Tokyo Olympics last month, he thwarted Novak Djokovic's attempt to win the rare Golden Slam, beating the world #1 in the semis on his way to capturing the gold medal. And this week in Cincinnati, he captured his fifth Masters title with wins over a red-hot Casper Ruud, a back-on-track Tsitsipas, and a surging Andrey Rublev, who was coming off his first ever win over Toronto champ and second-ranked Daniil Medvedev.

That gives Zverev his fourth title of the year and an impressive 11-match win streak heading into the U.S. Open, where he'll try to go one better after that disappointment from last year. And there may be no better chance for him to do it -- within the past week Thiem, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal have all said they won't be playing in New York, which gives the next generation a real chance to show us what they've got.

Of course Djokovic will be there, too, looking for the "consolation" prize of "just" a regular old calendar year Slam, as will Medvedev, who's been one of the most dominant players on tour this year. But Zverev will certainly be a threat, and he's certainly shown he's got what it takes to step into the spotlight.

And For the Ladies...

On the ladies side in Cincinnati, Ashleigh Barty further solidified her spot at the top of the women's game, rolling to her fifth title of the year -- at least one each on every surface -- without dropping a set.

And as impressive as her accomplishment was, it's certainly worth highlighting the run by her final challenger Jil Teichmann, a wildcard at the Western & Southern who followed up a monster upset of Naomi Osaka with wins over Olympic champion Belinda Bencic and Montreal runner-up Karolina Pliskova. Then again, maybe we shouldn't be so surprised that he found success on the American hardcourts -- the 24-year-old Swiss did make the final last year in Lexington and beat Danielle Collins when this event was played in New York a week later. Her success may not be enough to get her a seeding at the Open, but it sure should make her a dangerous spoiler in any section of the draw.

Oh, and, by the way, there was a WTA 125 going on in Chicago and, if you weren't paying attention, you might have missed the fact that Wimbledon Cinderella Emma Raducanu hopefully silenced that British dope with a runner-up finish that began with a big upset of top seed Alison Van Uytvanck in the opening round. She did ultimately lose the trophy to fellow teen sensation Clara Tauson, who picked up her first career title this past March in Lyon, but the wins prove she was no flash in the pan and that she might just have what it take to stick around awhile -- regardless of what that guy says.

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