TBS Diary: Semis In Cincy
Jonathan: Did you ever imagine we’d be talking about Svetlana Kuznetsova this far into the tournament? Her run this week in Cincy has been magical. She’s beaten four of the top 11 seeds: Sevastova, Stephens, Pliskova, and now top-seeded Barty in a comfortable, straight set affair in the semi-finals. We’ve said and written so many superlatives about her this week that I wonder what else there is to say.
James: Luckily she’s always giving us more. Svetlana has said that nothing surprises her anymore, she’s seen it all in tennis. Surely there’s something just a tad surprising about this week? At 34, this is the first time she’s beaten three top 10 players in one tournament. She dismantled the #1 seeded Barty in the semis, dictating play throughout the match. Kuznetsova looked at Barty’s variety and said, “I can do that.” It was an utterly comprehensive match from Sveta, even if Barty was not at her best. Ash didn’t have a great day on serve (and an abysmal one on return), batting slightly over .500 on first and second serve points won; lots of that can be credited to Kuznetsova’s elite return game. Ash was sure to heap praise on the “legend” Kuznetsova in press, saying that there wasn’t much she could do when Svetlana was dominating like that.
Jonathan: We’ve got a bit of a lull in the day as we sit here overlooking the first men’s semifinal and waiting for Sveta’s press conference. Goffin just took the first set from Gasquet 6-3, never really looking bothered at all. Back to Sveta, she will play the winner of the Keys-Kenin second semi-final. Who do you think would be a preferred matchup for her?
James: I have no idea. I know who my preferred winner is: Madison Keys. Sveta has hung with big hitters her entire career (I mean, she’s no slouch in that department either). She certainly wouldn’t be cowed by either the moment or Madison’s massive ground game. However, if Madison is hitting off both wings like she did last night, good luck to literally anyone in her path. The big “if” with Madison is accuracy. As far as Kenin, if I’m being completely honest, I’ve watched very little of her so far. But her run over the past two weeks is one of those that sometimes presages a massive career. Two wins over two different world no. 1s in less than two weeks.
Jonathan: Meanwhile, David Goffin is through to the final, beating Gasquet 6-3 6-4. Impressive from Goffin that he was able to defend all of his semi-final points from last year and go one further to reach his first ever Masters 1000 final. Aside from the ATP Finals in 2017, this is easily the biggest final of his career. As for Gasquet, he was going for his fourth Masters 1000 final and first since 2012 in Toronto. If you recall, he had added eyes on him in the first round because he drew Andy Murray in his singles comeback, so he’s had an eventful week. Then he takes out two very capable hard courters in Schwartzman and Bautista Agut. Goffin had a far less arduous road to the semis: Fritz, Pella, and Mannarino before getting a walkover from Nishioka in the quarters. All this is to say, Goffin was probably the fresher of the two, and it showed. He will get the winner of Djokovic-Medvedev, the last matchup on the semi-final card.
James: While we were waiting for Keys and Kenin to come on court, a massive bolt of lightning shot across the sky. It’s something we’re used to seeing almost every day in Cincinnati, but the tournament has been mercifully dry this year. I admit that I love watching the court-drying choreography, the legions of teens rolling their squeegees over the court like a Busby Berkeley dance number. The stadium DJ soundtracked the drying routine with my favorite song, “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac (“thunder only happens when it’s raining”). It’s the little things.
At this very moment, Madison Keys is playing a formidable first set against fellow American Sofia Kenin. Keys snatched a break to go up 3-1 and hasn’t looked back. She’s already got six aces and has been absolutely demolishing the ball. Kenin has been serving and volleying a bit, trying to give Madison a different look, but seems to be having more success at the baseline (at least while serving). It seems I spoke too soon, because Keys put in a sloppy service game and was broken while serving for the set.
Jonathan: Yup, from 5-2 to 5-5 in the blink of an eye, or a Keys forehand sailing to the back of the court.
James: Not so fast … Madison just grabbed a second break and the first set, 7-5.
The second set has been a wild ride. Keys definitely did not run away with the match after winning the first set. She’s been broken twice, broke Kenin three times, hit wild errors and shocking winners, and even threw in an immaculate hold at love (3 aces, 1 unreturnable). There was a great moment from umpire Julie Kjendlie, when she overruled an out call on a Kenin forehand. Even on the replay, you’d need a magnifying glass to see that it was in. Madison laughed for a good while, turned to Kjendlie and said, “That was the greatest call I’ve ever seen in my life.” Indeed.
In Kenin’s final service game, Keys stepped her game up in a serious way. At 30-15, Kenin drew Keys into the net with a short ball to her backhand; Keys reached it in time, slicing a backhand cross-court drop shot that slid past Kenin at net. Madison took her second match point with a forehand error by Kenin. Keys was clearly dictating, as usual: she finished with 41 winners and 21 unforced errors. She said after the match that she started to take a little speed off the ball in the second set -- as much as Keys can or will -- once she realized that Kenin was taking it early and sending back the pace Madison gave her.
Jonathan: Right, so we’ve got a Kuznetsova-Keys final. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s pressed about that matchup. Either player winning the title -- Sveta after all her visa and injury issues, and at this stage of her career, or Keys getting a big title on home soil -- would be a feel-good story.
All three semi-final matches so far have been pretty straight-forward, but now the fourth has just been sent into a third set by Daniil Medvedev. Djokovic won the first set 6-3 in rather routine fashion. But, Medvedev staved off an early break point in the second to eventually surge ahead with a break of serve and close it out with his own 6-3 set. Novak talked of elbow pain after his match last night; Medvedev has called for the trainer twice in the last few games. It’s all happening right now. I continue to be thoroughly impressed by Medvedev and the imperious run he’s been on in the last three weeks. Does he have one last push and a half to finally snag a trophy?
James: It’s quite close between the two right now. Medvedev generated a single break chance in the second set and took it. He held easily and that was all she wrote. He dictated more than Novak in that set, hitting 14 winners to Novak’s 8, and smacking 8 aces. We’re early in the third set, and Daniil has earned a break off strong returning and a few untimely Djokovic errors. It would seem only fitting if Medvedev had a huge win like this over Djokovic after such an impressive run these last few weeks.
Jonathan: Well, there you have it, the defending champion is out. Medvedev continued his sparkling serving in the third set, then broke with Djokovic serving to extend the match to close it out 3-6 6-3 6-3. He will play David Goffin in the final tomorrow and the winner will emerge with their first ever Masters 1000 title. Can’t believe our week in Cincinnati is almost over. Join us tomorrow to find out who the 2019 champions are at the Western & Southern Open.
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