Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, shown here at Wimbledon  Monday, July 1, 2019, is set to play in Cincinnati. 
Serbia’s Novak Djokovic, shown here at Wimbledon Monday, July 1, 2019, is set to play in Cincinnati. |Kirsty Wigglesworth | Associated Press

Abrams previews the men's field at the Western and Southern Open: Djokovic, Federer, Nadal and Murray top one of the year's toughest draws

The Qualifiers are going on now. The Cincinnati Masters Round of 64 starts Monday.

Neal Abrams

Neal Abrams

Preview of the Western and Southern Open

Cincinnati, Ohio

They’re all here. Every one of the world’s top men’s players is playing the last, big U.S. Open warm-up event, the Masters 1000, held in the tennis hotbed of Cincinnati, Ohio. As the ATP Tour has become increasingly splintered over the years, it’s a rare occasion that, other than the four Grand Slam events, all of the Big Three would show up for the same tournament. But here in Cincinnati, the fans are not only lucky enough to see them all in the same event, but with the addition of wild-card Andy Murray, the Big Four will make their first appearance together in a singles draw since January in Melbourne for the Australian Open.

Andy Murray has chosen this tournament to make his singles comeback after hip replacement surgery. How he can compete in the mid-August Ohio heat with a titanium hip will be a great test to see if he will try to enter the U.S. Open, where the matches are all best-of-five sets. Based on what I’ve seen in his doubles matches, I’d say that he’s hitting the ball well enough. Whether he has any discomfort or pain, however, will be the telling issue as to whether he can make a triumphant comeback. His first match will be against French shotmaker Richard Gasquet, and I’m sure that Gasquet will severely test the Scot.

This 64-man field is so stacked that some ATP pros who have been mainstays on the Tour this year have been relegated to the Qualifying draw, being played as you read this. Brit Dan Evans opens up against German Philip Kohlschreiber in a monumental first round battle in the qualies. Dr. Ivo plays American Tennys Sandgren. Marton Fucsovics has drawn Aussie Alexei Popyrin, Yoshi Nishioka plays John Millman, Denis Kudla squares off against Cam Norrie, Casper Ruud is in there, along with Bernie Tomic, Alex Bublik, Miomir Kecmanovic, Jack Sock and Feliciano Lopez. Perhaps the player I have most interest in is Ohio State junior J.J. Wolf. Wolf, who accepted a wild card into the Qualies, has been a dominant NCAA player for his couple of years in college and was recently the second seed at the NCAA championships, a rare American at the height of the college game.

The main draw is even more exciting. Novak Djokovic, making his first appearance since his epic fifth-set tiebreaker Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer will play the winner of the Sam Querrey/Pierre-Hugues Herbert first round clash. Fabio Fognini will go to war with Canadian Denis Shapovalov in a match that should produce ESPN highlights by the score. And the ATP sure has a sick sense-of-humor as they’ve stuck Grigor Dimitrov against Stan Wawrinka in the first round for the second week in a row, after they dueled in both the French Open (where Wawrinka won 7-6, 7-6, 7-6) and the 2018 U.S. Open, and 2018’s Wimbledon, both also won by Wawrinka. A couple of other first round clashes that should produce a lot of excitement include Gael Monfils/Frances Tiafoe, Marin Cilic/Radu Albot, Laslo Djere/Diego Schwartzman, Alex de Minaur/Marco Cecchinato, Reilly Opelka/Borna Coric, and David Goffin/Taylor Fritz.

For the big boys, the draw has insured that, if they win, third-ranked Roger Federer will get another shot at top-ranked Djokovic in the semis. Fifth-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas will try to break that expected semi-final matchup, as he’s seeded to play Federer in the quarters, and Aussie Nick Kyrgios might get a chance to topple The Joker, if his head is screwed on right and he decides to compete this week. Second-seeded Rafa Nadal should get fourth seeded Dominic Thiem in the bottom semis, unless seventh seeded Sascha Zverev can upset the Austrian. Kei Nishikori is the sixth seed and should play Nadal in the quarters, but the game Nishikori does not have a good enough record against Nadal (2-11) to think that he could provide a monumental upset.

For those lucky Ohioans who have tickets, I’m sure that they will get their money's worth in thrill and chills as the Tour winds its way into New York City for the year's fourth and final Slam.

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