Sean Calvert’s ATP Cincinnati Outright Preview

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The ATP Tour heads to Mason, Ohio in week 33 for the Western & Southern Open (more commonly known as simply the Cincinnati Masters) and it’ll be another M1000 this year that’s missing the biggest stars of the men’s game.

Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are all out injured, so it’s another opportunity for someone to step up and make their presence felt at this level without having to defeat one or more of the game’s elite.

First, a look back on what happened last week in Toronto – and it was one of those facepalm moments.


As is often the case with these outrights, it was the players we backed the previous week (who flopped) that came back to haunt us, with firstly our Washington DC outright Frances Tiafoe beating our man in Toronto, Denis Shapovalov.

Shapo had a bit of a nightmare in the swirling wind in his opening match against Tiafoe, who got back in as lucky loser, with the Canadian unable to cope with the tough conditions.

Then in the quarter finals it was Reilly Opelka, who we also backed in DC (lost in straight sets to John Millman) that put our Toronto bet, Roberto Bautista Agut, out of the tournament and went on to make the final as a 150-1 chance. Galling, to say the least.

Both of the market leaders (after Rafa Nadal had withdrawn) made the semis, along with two big servers and at the time of writing Daniil Medvedev is a short-priced favourite to justify top seeding and favouritism.

Conditions and trends

We’re back at the Lindner Family Tennis Center for the first time since 2019 when it was a Decoturf II surface and this year it’s played on Laykold courts (despite the ATP official draw saying it’s still Decoturf), with the Grandstand Court made using recycled balls from the 2020 US Open and Cincy Masters events.

There’s a hint of altitude in Cincy and with this Laykold surface being used, too, I’d expect it to be on the quicker side of medium this week.

The apparent speed of these Laykold courts (CPI was clocked at 42 in Toronto) hasn’t really transferred into the stats though, with only 79% holds in last year’s US Open and Cincy Masters (both played in New York).

Last week in Toronto there were 81% holds and only 38% tie break matches, which is lower than the previous Toronto tie break average and the same service hold average as when it was played on Decoturf.

Perhaps the 230m of altitude will make a bit of a difference in terms of holds and big servers have traditionally done pretty well here over the years, with Marin Cilic, Nick Kyrgios and Milos Raonic (New York) all making the title match in recent times.

As far as the outright trends are concerned, it’s been one of the better Masters events for decent prices over the years, with Raonic a 100-1 finalist last year (New York) and David Goffin an 80-1 finalist the last time it was held in Cincy.

Daniil Medvedev was a 33-1 champion that year (2019), while 33-1 Grigor Dimitrov and 25-1 Nick Kyrgios contested the 2017 final and 40-1 Marin Cilic won here in 2016.

Number one seeds haven’t fared that well here lately, with Djokovic’s 2020 win (in New York) the first top seed success since Federer won it in 2012.

Qualifiers have had their moments in Cincy, with a few quarter finalists in the last decade, but only Alexander Dolgopolov in 2015 has gone as far as the semis since David Wheaton did it in 1994.

The advance weather forecast says to expect a week of scattered thunderstorms and a similar level of heat and humidity to Toronto last week, with humidity up in the 80% range (over 90% in the evening), so conditions will be tough.

Western & Southern Open 2021 draw – top half

Top seed in Cincy this week, then, is Daniil Medvedev, who won the title the last time this event was played in Mason and he looks to have arguably the toughest half of the draw.

Medvedev’s first match will be tricky against either Washington DC finalist Mackenzie McDonald or Atlanta and Los Cabos finalist Brandon Nakashima.

Then, if he comes through that, he’d either face Alexander Bublik, who had his chances to beat Medvedev last week but was rather unfortunately halted by a rain delay, or one of Roberto Bautista Agut or former Cincy champ Grigor Dimitrov.

Going on previous experience, Bautista Agut is almost certain to make the final this week after we backed him last week and RBA made the semi final of ‘Cincy’ (held in New York) in 2020, losing out in a final set tie break against Novak Djokovic.

In 2019 in the real Cincy he lost out in the quarter finals, so he’s got very good recent form in this tournament.

He’s also 3-0 head-to-head against Medvedev, so RBA is the obvious choice to upset the Russian and progress from Q1, but there are several other options, too.

One is Hubert Hurkacz, who so nearly beat Medvedev in Toronto in the quarter finals and the other standout for me is Pablo Carreno Busta, who played so well in the Olympics in Tokyo when he beat Medvedev and Djokovic.

PCB has won four of his last five matches against Bautista Agut and he’s got a decent 9-5 win/loss record in Cincy, too, losing only to Djokovic, Cilic, Ferrer, Monfils and Khachanov here, but a best-priced 33-1 doesn’t strike me as fabulous value.

So, without even considering the likes of Andy Murray, Dimitrov, Alejandro Davidovich Fokina and Jan-Lennard Struff, this Q1 looks a good quality quarter.

And history suggests that it is worth taking on the player who’s just won Canada (which I’m going to have to assume will be Medvedev) in Cincy, with only one man (Rafael Nadal in 2013) having won Canada and Cincy back-to-back since Andy Roddick did it in 2003.

The evidence of Toronto suggests that the bigger hitters and servers are likely to have the edge here, so the 40-1 that Ladbrokes are offering about Hurkacz looks the call in Q1 ahead of PCB, while RBA has his chances as well.

Q2 also has numerous potential finalists in it, such as another one we backed last week, Denis Shapovalov, along with Washington DC champ Jannik Sinner, plus Andrey Rublev, who made the last eight here as a qualifier (beating Federer in straight sets) in 2019.

Other contenders are former champ Marin Cilic, Dubai champ Aslan Karatsev, a back-to-form Gael Monfils, Aussie star Alex De Minaur, Los Cabos champ Cam Norrie and former Cincy finalist John Isner.

It was nice to see Monfils back in some sort of form last week, but he managed to pick up another injury and has never been the last eight in Cincy, but any of the others look like they have decent chances to make the last four from Q2, although Isner looked to be struggling physically in Toronto on Saturday.

The value pick for me is Karatsev, who should enjoy the fast conditions and was simply too powerful for both Rublev and Sinner in Dubai in a superb start to the season, but it’s tailed off a bit for Karatsev lately.

The grass didn’t appear to suit him and now after a few weeks back on quick hard courts he could make his presence felt here, although he’s got a potentially tough one first up in Cilic.

A Cilic-Rublev start doesn’t look ideal, but Rublev won’t fancy Karatsev as his first opponent and if he comes through you’d fancy Karatsev against the rest of his mini-section.

De Minaur looks totally out of sorts at the moment and I don’t mind chancing Karatsev at 50-1 with either Bet 365 or Paddy/Betfair.

Western & Southern Open 2021 draw – bottom half

Olympic champion Alexander Zverev must like the look of his draw in Q3, with Casper Ruud, Diego Schwartzman and David Goffin the other seeds in this quarter.

Ruud has improved on hard courts, but, like Schwartzman, lacks the power to be a force in quick conditions, while Goffin is coming back from yet another injury and hasn’t played since mid-June.

The in-form (the week after we backed him, of course) Reilly Opelka and maybe Ugo Humbert, Lloyd Harris or Nikoloz Basilashvili may provide a test or two for Zverev, who has a dreadful record in Cincy.

The German hasn’t won a single match in the main draw of the Western & Southern Open yet in a 2-7 win/loss record (including qualies) that has seen him lose all six main draw matches in deciding sets.

That’s rather off-putting to me and he might be vulnerable to Harris first up, with Zverev not having played the North American swing yet after taking a break post-Tokyo.

Basilashvili played some lights-out stuff last week and would probably have beaten Hurkacz in the last-16 had he not managed only 39% of first serves in play.

Again, he doesn’t have much of a record in Cincy and he has a career-first clash with Fabio Fognini for an opening match this week, which I’d pay good money to watch courtside.

The one I managed to grab at a whopping 150-1 (each-way) at Bet Victor’s opening show is Humbert and I like that price a lot, but he’s a best-priced 70-1 now with the same firm and 33-1 or so with most other layers.

I certainly couldn’t recommend him at 33-1, but 70s might still be a hint of value.

I prefer the 125-1 about Basilashvili though (Bet Victor), with the ultra-aggressive Georgian looking great last week and if he can keep that level up he could have a chance if Zverev isn’t quite at it and continues his woeful Cincy form.

Opelka has an obvious chance on his Toronto form, but he’s often had injury problems and it’d be a heck of an effort from him to make back-to-back finals in hot conditions and a quick turnaround.

In Q4, Stefanos Tsitsipas could have a tricky opening match as well, with Seb Korda (if he’s fit) the likely round two opponent for the Greek and that could be tough if Korda is fit enough.

Other than that you’re looking at Matteo Berrettini, Felix Auger-Aliassime, Taylor Fritz or Karen Khachanov as the likely toughest opposition for Tsitsipas, although on a good week perhaps Marton Fucsovics could figure as well.

Wimbledon finalist Berrettini is the obvious pick as a viable threat to Tsitsipas, who made the semis of ‘Cincy’ 2020 (played in New York) and the Greek hasn’t won a match at the Lindner Family Tennis Centre in his career yet (0-2).

It seems unlikely that Berrettini will be fit enough and/or have enough match practice to be a title contender this week having been off the tour since picking up a thigh injury at Wimbledon and 12-1 or so is plenty short enough in the circumstances.

Tsitsipas showed once again in Toronto that he can be vulnerable against big servers, creating only one break point in three sets against Opelka in a semi final defeat, but there’s no one like that in Q4 with the possible exception of Berrettini.

Opelka realised that the high kicking serve to the Tsitsipas backhand on serve is a very high percentage play in quickish conditons, but I don’t fancy any of the Q4 players being able to do what Opelka did so I’ll pass in this quarter.


As well as Medvedev played in Toronto I’m happy to take him on here, with history suggesting back-to-back Toronto and Cincy titles (assuming he wins Toronto) are extremely rare.

Hurkacz and Karatsev fit the bill in the top half at nice prices and for a real big-priced punt Basilashvili at 125-1 in the bottom half looks the one now that the great value on Humbert has gone (it lasted about two minutes).

Best Bets

1 point each-way Hurkacz at 40-1 (Ladbrokes)

0.75 points each-way Karatsev at 50-1 (Bet365/Paddy/Betfair)

0.5 points each-way Basilashvili at 125-1 (Bet Victor)