Cincinnati 2016 Preview Gael Monfils Stan Wawrinka Milos Raonic Big Chance


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With Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal’s Olympic efforts likely to take their toll, and with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer absent, Cincinnati may prove to be the first ATP 1000 not won by one of the Big Four since Tsonga in Toronto ’14. The Tennis Review looks at the contenders most likely to earn themselves a confidence boosting title before the upcoming US Open.

Gael Monfils, seeded 9, Quarter-finals 2011.

Gael Monfils has really hit his stride in 2016. The world No.11 made the Australian Open last eight, the Monte Carlo final, won his first ATP 500 title at the Citi Open, and made the Rio quarters.

Monfils’ troubles, however, have not completely gone away this season- he was hit by a virus before Roland Garros, his career best Slam and dream title growing up, ย and he let three match points slip away in a third set tiebreak, double faulting on serve at 6-5, versus Kei Nishikori in Rio.

However, the one flaw in Monfils’ game hampering him reaching his potential seems to be gone – his tendency to play the clown- and a more serious Monfils could cause serious trouble for his Cincy rivals.

The Frenchman’ athleticism, effective and at times brutal serving, and great defense make him a real danger on fast hard courts, and his shot-making abilities mean that when he gets his racket on the ball, especially on the run, anything could happen.

In eight previous visits to Ohio, the Frenchman ย is 8-8, but he has had some tough draws- losing to Djokovic in 2011 in the last eight, to Federer in 2014. This year his draw could consist of Baghdatis or Pospisil in 2nd round,ย Thiem in the last 16, Raonic in the quarters, Murray in the semis, and Wawrinka in the final. As tough as you would expect from an ATP 1000, however, with some of those players on the road back from injury, good match ups for him on fast hard, and tired out from Rio, Monfils’ chances of another leap forward in his impressive yet still wanting career are looking as good as they ever have.

Stan Wawrinka, seeded 2, Semi-finals 2012, quarter-finals, 2014, 2015.

Wawrinka withdrew from Rio with injury, but the two time slam champ has been back practicing and is ready to play for what would be his 15th trophy overall, and his second ATP 1000 after Monte Carlo 2014.

The Swiss is an impressive 10-0 in his last ten ATP finals, and if he makes the final in Cincy, he has to be the favorite to win. He has a potentially tricky last 16 match with Feliciano Lopez (if Lopez defeats qualifier Mischa Zverev in round 1), or Grigor Dimitrov, a last eight versus old foe Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, (if the Frenchman is not upset by the likes of Steve Johnson), Nadal in the last four, and Murray in the final. That would be a tough run to a title, but Wawrinka has been there, done that, and if he gets to within a match of the trophy, he will likely wear the ATP Champion’s T-shirt again.

Milos Raonic, seeded 4, Semis 2014.

Tennis is waiting for Raonic to win a big title- and the ATP counts ATP 1000s as ‘Big Ones’– and after his Wimbledon run, and his recent time off,ย an open draw at a fast court event like Cincinnati, one that rewards his huge serve and first strike approach, might be the one. Cincinnati has been kind to Raonic in the past, in his previous best run of play in 2014 he made the last four, losing to Roger Federer.

Raonic lost to Feliciano Lopez in his round of 64 opener last year, but the Canadian was on the comeback from injury and is in much stronger form now than back then. Raonic has proven he can beat anyone on the tour the last few seasons, and with the only top player he has not beaten, Novak Djokovic, out of the way, whoever he meets in the draw, the Canadian, if he has a great day, could win.

In his recent Canadian Open loss to Monfils in the quarters, Raonic acknowledged on his facebook page that forehand errors had cost him the match (read Raonic’s own words below). Raonic has shown himself, via social media and interviews, to be a very reflective player who learns from his mistake, and while Monfils is just the kind of player to force you into error, the Canadian will, in his words, do his best to not repeat that kind of slump again. The Canadian’s Cincy rivals had better be ready- what Roanic says in his gentle and well thought out manner tend to translate into brutal and concise on court executions.

Kei Nishikori, seeded 5, ย Last sixteen 2011, 2012.

Nishikori Cincinnati

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In Rio, Nishikori recovered from letting his grip slip on his Bronze Medal match versus Nadal. Nishikori won that battle, one of the biggest of his career, and that feat alongside his recent Toronto final finish, could be what helps him finally breakthrough and win an ATP 1000 title after three attempts, thwarted by Nadal (Madrid ’14) and Djokovic (Miami ’16, Toronto ’16).

Nishikori has only played Cincinnati three times, and has not played since losing to Feliciano Lopez in his 2013 opener. That low attendance rate is due to the Japanese’ tendency to get injured, but with Nishikori currently healthy, this season could be the one where he puts in a career best Cincinnati showing.

Nishikori is in Murray’s quarter. The Scot has been a bad match up the last couple of years, and their recent Rio Semi-final illustrates why- Murray forces Nishikori to go for too much too soon. Nishikori has to come out playing athletic players with world class defensive skills on his own terms for his aggressive shot-making to win through, much like he managed to do versus Nadal for the two thirds of their Rio contest. It’s a big task, but Nishikori can tap into his big rival’s weaknesses or sub-par days on US hard courts, and if he can be patient, hang tough, and strike the ball at the height of his abilities, an ATP 1000 trophy breakthrough win could come his way in Cincinnati.

Marin Cilic, seeded 12, Quarter-finals 2012.

Cilic and fast US hard courts can be a devastating combo as his US Open 2014 run showed. The Croatian has been getting better and better all season- making the last eight at Wimbledon, the Geneva final, the last sixteen in Rio- and he has a nice section of the draw with a possible last sixteen meeting with Tomas Berdych against whom he is a favorable match up.

In 7 Cincy attempts he is 7-7 and has made one quarter-final in 2012 losing to Djokovic. Expect him to reach that stage or better it this season.

Tomas Berdych, seeded 6, Semi-Finals 2011, 2013.

New coach Goran Ivanisevic could be Berdych’s last chance to breathe some life into an oddly ailing looking career. On the surface, Berdych’s resume still looks fairly lively- he recently made the Wimbledon semis- but on closer inspection, his career is close to dead when it comes to beating his biggest rivals or competing for ATP titles- Berdych has not made one ATP final this season.

A second ATP 1000 title, 11 years after his first at Paris-Bercy ’15, at this stage of his career would boost Berdych’s confidence no end. With the possible Olympic fallout for the top players performance wise, and an absent Roger Federer, Berdych, still taking advantage of nice draws to make slam semis, could find himself with a great opportunity to do the one thing he has not achieved in his career besides reaching No.1 in the ATP rankings- win a slam title.

The Czech has a tough draw with fast court nemesis Marin Cilic in his last sixteen, Rafa Nadal and Nick Kyrgios as possible last eight opponents, and Wawrinka in the semis. However, if the draw opens up for him, the wisdom of Ivanisevic, a late bloomer himself as a slam titlist, could be a decisive factor in kickstarting Berdych’s 2016, and at just the right time.

Richard Gasquet, seeded 13, Quarter-finals 2015.

Gasquet Cincinnati

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Gasquet is on another comeback from injury (back), but the Frenchman does really well on fast hard courts, and a refreshed Gasquet could get the better of Kevin Anderson in his second round, ( the Frenchman leads the South African 5-2) and a sure-to-be-exhausted Andy Murray in the last sixteen ( the two went three sets in their Cincy last eight clash last season with the Scot winning).

Kei Nishikori is scheduled for the last eight, and Gasquet’s 7-2 head to head record versus the Japanese makes him the favorite in that one.

The last four could put him up against Raonic (4) or Thiem (8). ย Raonic leads 3-1, but all their matches have been close. Gasquet leads Thiem 1-0. This is a nice chance for Gasquet, and while his lack of recent match practice might hurt him , his versatility, single handed backhand, and volleying skills could be the strengths that earn him a fourth shot at an ATP 1000 title (Gasquet was a finalist at Hamburg ’05, Canada ’06 and 12).

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.

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