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2019 Cincinnati Scene Setter, August 12

Andrew Burton

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

Greetings from Cincinnati!

For this morning’s scene setter, fallout from the twin Rogers Cup finals, the tectonic plates below ATP politics move a few inches, our favorite chair umpire, and a preview of some of today’s matches.

Rafael Nadal won his fifth Rogers Cup title in Montreal, brushing aside Daniil Medvedev, 6-3 6-0. Nadal had told the press that he’d make a decision about participating in this week’s Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati after consulting with his team. Presumably, the first person he talked to was a mathematician: the win guaranteed Nadal the No. 2 seed at the U.S. Open, and a couple of hours later Rafa confirmed that he’d give Cincinnati a miss, as he did last year when he won in Toronto.

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We don’t know if he texted Roger Federer before he told the media; the two have been talking quite a bit recently, and Federer told a media round table he’d been looking forward to talking with Nadal here this week. Both Federer and ATP Players Council President Novak Djokovic (the no 1 seed this week) took media questions on Sunday afternoon as the Montreal final was getting under way. The recent announcement that Federer, Nadal and Jurgen Melzer would join the Players Council was the number one topic. If journalists were hoping for some red meat they had to make do with a gluten free casserole: neither Djokovic nor Federer said anything remotely controversial, although there were some subtle hints about how the next few months might play out.

Novak came into press before Roger. He stressed that all three players had been voted onto the Players Council unanimously (ie he also had supported the move). He said it didn’t get much better than this in terms of representation. Djokovic was asked about the Council’s agenda for the rest of the year, but he sidestepped the question: he carefully went over the multiple structures that are involved in decision making. When asked directly if a players union would be helpful, Novak said that right now he was part of the ATP structure, and was doing his best within that structure. He stressed that he always wanted what was best for the players, but now he needed to work within the existing structure.

His older rival was just as diplomatic when he followed Novak into press.

Federer did give a bit of background as to how the Players Council moves had come about. He’d learned of the Wimbledon resignations, and had spoken with Robin Haase, one of the player representatives who’d stepped down. Federer then spoke to Nadal, and they’d discussed whether they could help with anything – perhaps there were issues with communication? These were very important times for tennis, he said, and thought it would be wrong to just sit it out. He’d told Nadal that he’d only do it if Nadal also would. He quipped that the Players Council could have said no, but he was happy they’d voted for them.

Federer said that a players union had been pushed around for decades: the current structure had its flaws and positives, but he (like Novak) didn’t have anything in particular he wanted to change – he was here to help, he’d need to talk to Rafa when he got here, and to talk to other council members before they met in New York before the US Open.

Given that Nadal isn’t coming this week, the cell phones will have to substitute, though its possible that Roger and Novak can get together over coffee some time this week. They’re due to meet in the semis here if the seeding holds. Lots of tennis to play before then, including the return to singles of Sir Andy Murray, just announced to the stadium crowd here as he finished his warm up before the first match. Murray is due up for the third match on Center today against long time rival Richard Gasquet (Murray has an 8-3 lead in that rivalry). Both men are in the other section of the draw to Djokovic and Federer, so you never know.

Serena Williams’ Toronto final ended with a retirement after four games, after she was unable to continue because of severe back spasms. As at 11am ET there’s no word as to whether she’ll attempt to play in Cincinnati; her victorious opponent, Bianca Andreescu, has opted to withdraw. Cincinnati is a Premier 5 category tournament, essentially equivalent to the M1000 for the ATP. 16 of the top 17 ranked players confirmed acceptance before the tournament, though we’ll see if Williams does play (odds looked pretty long on Sunday).

I did have the pleasure of being in the stadium to hear Mohamed Lahyani chair Isner vs Lajovic yesterday evening. Mohamed, like many of the players, was feeling his way into the tournament – there weren’t any “out!” calls that broke spectators’ ear drums. But his command of vocal dynamics – “fifteen FORty” – was as strong as ever.

The top seeds in both the WTA and ATP draws have byes on Monday: featured matches for me are Sabalenka-Martic and Sakkari-Giorgi for the WTA, and Gasquet-Murray and Kyrgios-Sonego for the ATP. If you’re here and get to court 3, Djokovic and Tipsarevic play Kubot and Melo second up in ATP Doubles.

Enjoy today’s tennis!

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