MASON – For the first time in 11 years, the Western & Southern Open will feature a men’s singles championship without a Top 10 player.
Grab your popcorn, because the 4 p.m. title match pits World No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov against No. 23 Nick Kyrgios for prize money, ATP World Tour ranking points and part of history at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Only three Top 10 players competed in this year’s tournament due to injuries, and the last of them – World No. 2 Rafael Nadal – was ousted in a quarterfinal. The W&S Open is the first Masters 1000 tournament without one of the Big Four (Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) in its final since 2012 Paris.
Neither Dimitrov, 26, nor Kyrgios, 22, has ever won a Masters 1000 tournament, but one will leave with a title on his resume and significant spoils. The victor receives a $954,225 purse and 1,000 ranking points; the other finalist takes home $467,880 and 600 ranking points.
Both players outplayed tour veterans to reach the championship. Will it be Dimitrov or Kyrgios who takes home the Rookwood Cup?
Surviving the semifinals
Dimitrov clinched a 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) victory against hard-serving American John Isner in Saturday’s first semifinal.
The 6-foot-10 Isner, a 2013 W&S Open finalist, planned to win the second set and extend the match. Dmitrov consistently foiled his intentions.
“I played some pretty good points. He defended really well. I mean, I hit two of the hardest forehands that I have ever hit in my life that he was able to get back. That’s what he does. He’s an incredible defender and an incredible shot maker,” Isner said.
Dimitrov navigated his second W&S Open semifinal in as many years – he lost in 2016 to eventual champion Marin Cilic – by practicing patience.
“I knew I’m not going to have that many rallies against John. I knew that he’s going to serve big, bold serves,” Dimitrov said. “I just had to be very composed and use every opportunity that I had.”
Dimitrov established separation in the first-set tiebreak by winning three straight points and leading 5-2. He closed out the set soon after.
World No. 19 Isner saved three match points in the second set, but Dimitrov capitalized on a fourth opportunity after the American dealt a ball into the net.
Several hours later, Kyrgios cemented his place in the finale by outlasting World No. 31 David Ferrer in a two-hour, 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) thriller. Neither player converted a service break in the marathon match.
Truth be told, Kyrgios said, Ferrer was a difficult match-up for him.
“He was a nightmare to play, especially because…I’m a tall guy and he’s not the tallest guys. He hits the ball pretty flat. You know, the whole time there is nothing shoulder height for me to hit. I’m always trying to hit underneath and trying to hit up and over it,” Kyrgios said.
Kyrgios sewed up the first tiebreaker with a blazing forehand shot in the open court. He delivered pressure in the second-set tiebreaker too, thwarting a Ferrer comeback.
“I didn’t have chance in the second tiebreak. I played good, but I need serve. I’m missing all the match. And in important moments with the second serve, he played aggressive. He serve, you know, (more) than 130 miles,” said Ferrer, a 2014 W&S finalist.
Kyrgios remains on the hunt for his first title this year. If he wins Sunday, he’ll be the lowest-ranked W&S Open champ since No. 49 Tom Gorman in 1975.
A closer look at the title match
Kyrgios and Dimitrov have played just once before, a Round of 64 match at Indian Wells in 2015. Dimitrov won in three sets.
Their games now, two years later, are more robust and dangerous. It’s anyone’s title to grab.
Dimitrov said incorporating more success into his career is an important progression. Breaking new ground, like reaching his first Masters 1000 final, is just the start.
“Right now is just all about just going step by step and just building up not only my confidence, my game, to be able to do that pretty much every time I’m entering a tournament. And I feel good. I think the body is responding well. I have been playing good tennis, as well. So that actually helps,” Dimitrov said.
“Hopefully (Sunday) is going to be one of those days that I can, again, produce good tennis. But not only that. I just kind of want to make sure that I’m going in the right direction.”
Ditto for Kyrgios, who said he was “eating KFC” and “not a great athlete” four years ago. He credited Ferrer and his coach for helping shape his development. They mapped out ways for him to improve at that time.
Now Kyrgios faces one of the biggest matches of his career, against one of his good friends. Kyrgios called Dimitrov an unbelievable athlete with a great serve and forehand.
“It’s going to be a tough match,” Kyrgios said. “It’s great to see him. I think he had a year where he was struggling a little bit, and…when I was watching the Australian Open this year, he was playing unbelievable tennis, I thought. That’s the Grigor that I thought he could always be.”