The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, preparations for the U.S. Open continue in earnest at the Western and Southern Open.
MASON, Ohio -- The Western and Southern Open has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, transforming into a top tour event in North America. Unfortunately, the commitment from fans and tournament organizers wasn't enough to stave off the ill effects of the London Olympics.
With Rafael Nadal, John Isner and defending champion Maria Sharapova out, and top-ranked Victoria Azarenka choosing well in advance to skip the Masters 1000/Premier tournament, Cincinnati has lost a bit of luster, particularly given the fact that it's the final major lead-up tournament to the U.S. Open. But don't feel too badly for "the Slam of the Midwest" (my label, not theirs). When you can still boast Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Serena Williams, you're doing OK for yourself.
Let's take a look at how the draws stack up:
The three headliners have to feel good about their games: Djokovic is coming off a Rogers Cup title, Murray recently won the Olympic gold medal and Federer claimed Wimbledon and Olympic silver in the last month or so. And given the fact that no man outside of the top four has captured an ATP Masters 1000 title since Robin Soderling won the Paris Indoors in 2010, you'll have to forgive me if it's difficult to look past these familiar names for a contender. Fatigued or not, they've earned that respect.
All eyes are on Murray, who will try to defend his title and prove that his gold-medal run puts him in the running for U.S. Open favorite, a label he's never been tagged with at any Slam. He's been drawn into the tougher half alongside Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro, with a potential third-round match against Andy Roddick looming. After withdrawing from Toronto with a knee injury, Murray has been training hard here on the practice courts. It's clear that he's tired and his body is fighting him, especially with the grueling transition from grass to hard court, but as the days have passed the intensity of his workouts has picked up. With both Djokovic and Del Potro exhausted, this is a great opportunity to maintain his momentum.
First-round matches to watch: Brian Baker vs. Philipp Kohlschreiber; Mardy Fish vs. Feliciano Lopez; Gilles Simon vs. Marcos Baghdatis; Richard Gasquet vs. Milos Raonic; David Nalbandian vs. Tommy Haas.
Potential second-round matches to watch: Gilles Simon or Marcos Baghdatis vs. Milos Raonic or Richard Gasquet; Tommy Haas vs. Juan Martin del Potro; Andy Murray vs. Sam Querrey.
Potential third-round matches to watch: Tomas Berdych vs. Milos Raonic or Richard Gasquet; Juan Martin del Potro vs. Lleyton Hewitt; Andy Murray vs. Andy Roddick.
Finals prediction: Federer def. Murray.
How's this for a welcome-home party: Of the 13 qualifiers or lucky losers in the draw, eight of them are in Serena's quarter, with 11 in her half alone. The only main-draw entrants in her quarter? Angelique Kerber, Varvara Lepchenko, Dominika Cibulkova, Lucie Safarova and Ksenia Pervak. So, yeah, this draw sets up well for Williams, who is riding a 17-match winning streak. She's earned the right to be deemed the favorite in any tournament she enters, which means the pressure is on her to deliver. I remain convinced that Petra Kvitova can give Serena a run for her money if she plays her best; those two could meet in the semifinals. Their Wimbledon quarterfinal was one of the best women's matches of the year.
On the top half of the draw is Agnieszka Radwanska, who has had a month to forget since reaching the Wimbledon finals. She didn't win a match at the Olympics and was ousted by Li Na with ease in Montreal. Looming in her half are Li, Marion Bartoli, Sam Stosur and Venus Williams. Radwanska is 13-4 against the seeds in her half and 5-10 against those in the bottom half. Let's see if she can get back on track ahead of the final Grand Slam tournament of the year. This is the Pole's first Premier tournament as the No. 1 seed
First-round matches to watch: Venus Williams vs. Maria Kirilenko; Camila Giorgi vs. Francesca Schiavone; Madison Keys vs. Roberta Vinci; Lucie Safarova vs. Yaroslava Shvedova.
Potential second-round matches to watch: Christina McHale vs. Venus Williams or Maria Kirilenko; Julia Goerges vs. Ana Ivanovic;Varvara Lepchenko vs. Angelique Kerber.
Potential third-round matches to watch: Li Na vs. Marion Bartoli; Sam Stosur vs. Nadia Petrova. Finals prediction: Serena def. Li.