By Shannon Russell
A new men’s singles champion will be crowned Sunday at the Western & Southern Open.
The only former winner in the draw, top-seeded Rafael Nadal, was ousted late Friday by World No. 23 Nick Kyrgios, opening the door for a brand new owner of the Rookwood Cup.
According to the ATP World Tour, this marks the first time since Paris 2012 that none of the Big Four (Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray) are in the semifinals of a Masters 1000 event.
Kyrgios secured the final place in the semis late Friday by upsetting soon-to-be-No. 1 Nadal in a 6-2, 7-5 clash. The Aussie moves on to face 2014 W&S Open finalist David Ferrer at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason.
World No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov (a 2016 semifinalist) and No. 19 John Isner (a 2013 finalist) play first in a 2 p.m. semifinal.
Friday’s finale capped a long day for Kyrgios and Nadal, who both played twice due to a Thursday rain out and schedule reconfiguration. Kyrgios, 22, roared into the night quarterfinal after dispatching Ivo Karlovic in a three-set Round of 16 marathon while Nadal defeated countryman Albert Ramos-Vinolas in straight sets.
Kyrgios set the tone quickly. He fired three aces, took advantage of the Spaniard’s seven unforced errors, and went up a double break before closing out the first set in 25 minutes.
The crowd rallied behind Nadal, peppering the 15-time Grand Slam champion with cheers of “Vamos!” and “Rafa!”
Nadal fought off three match points in the second set and broke Kyrgios to make it 5-all. But Kyrgios broke Nadal back and served out the win.
“I started the match well, and then I played a very bad game in the second set when he break me. And then I managed – I was lucky. I don’t know. I played some good points. He had some mistakes and I was able to be back in the match. And then I played terrible game,” Nadal said. “So, yeah, was a bad match for me. Congrats to him. That’s it.”
WOMEN’S SEMIFINALS: Three of the top four seeded women’s players and a wild card entrant have advanced to the W&S Open semis.
Top-seeded Karolina Pliskova (the 2016 champion), second-seeded Simona Halep (a 2015 finalist and 2014 semifinalist) and fourth-seeded Garbine Muguruza (a 2016 semifinalist) are back in familiar territory. The W&S Open semifinals are new ground for wild card Sloane Stephens.
Pliskova plays Muguruza at noon on Center Court. Stephens and Halep play at 4 p.m. on the same court.
Like Nadal and Kyrgios, Friday was a long day for Pliskova and Stephens. They also played two matches Friday in the rain-affected schedule.
Following her evening defeat of Julia Goerges, Stephens was eager to eat and sleep.
“This morning I woke up, and I was super tired. I normally have been sleeping in, so it was kind of tough to get up. Then I got here. Wasn’t bad. I ate. Was totally ready to play. Started off tough, but I was able to figure out a way somehow,” Stephens said.
“Then after that match, then I came inside, took a shower, changed my clothes, had some more food. Then I took a nap. And then I woke up, it was 5:00, and I had to go and warm up. So the day is just like a blur.”
GET YOUR POPCORN: A year ago, Pliskova defeated Muguruza in a W&S Open semifinal en route to the title. The winner of Saturday’s rematch could very well do the same.
World No. 6 Muguruza started Friday’s play with a marathon 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 quarterfinal victory over eighth-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova.
It took World No. 1 Pliskova some time to catch up. She fended off qualifier Camila Giorgi (6-3, 4-6, 6-0) and stymied World No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki (6-2, 6-4) with a strong service game to claim the spot opposite Muguruza in the semifinals.
Pliskova owns a 6-1 career mark against Muguruza, including wins in their last six meetings. Within that tally lies the 2016 W&S Open semifinal, which Pliskova won 6-1, 6-3.
But those matches are history, the Czech player said.
“I think she improved, as well, (same) as me. So I just want to forget about the rest what was and just start from zero. Obviously I want to take the positive from the matches what I won but not really think about that I have that good record against her,” Pliskova said.
“But still, I think these conditions could be a little bit better for me. I think it’s pretty fast. Especially we play (at) 12 p.m. tomorrow, so still, it’s going to be hot. The balls are flying pretty a lot, so…I’ll just try to take advantage from that and try to play my game as I was playing today against Caro (Wozniacki).”
Pliskova needed just 67 minutes to deny Wozniacki. She won 25 of her 26 first serve points and capitalized on Wozniacki’s three double faults in the second set.
Muguruza, meanwhile, said her quarterfinal win over Kuznetsova was one of the best matches she’d played all year.
“I felt like we both played very well. Especially in that third set, you know, we were winning points and our serve was there,” Muguruza said. “I know that I win, but I’m sure she feels (it) was a great match as well, because (it was) a tough battle and very hot out there.”
Muguruza broke Kuznetsova to start the match, and the hotly contested showdown was on.
There were 12 breaks in all, including five in the second set. Kuznetsova won four of the last five games of that 51-minute set to ensure a third set, and the players went nearly game-for-game in a thriller.
By converting seven of her 12 break point opportunities and winning 68 percent of her second return points in the two-hour, 46 outing, the Spaniard prevailed. A big key was remaining strong in the final set.
“It’s the last set. You give everything you have. Trying to be brave and aggressive, not panic, because you're in the third set. And I guess it’s working,” Muguruza said.
AGE IS ONLY A NUMBER: At 35 years and 4 months, Ferrer is the second-oldest W&S Open semifinalist in the Open Era, behind only Ken Rosewall (35 years, 8 months) in 1970.
This is Ferrer’s first Masters 1000 semifinal in two years. His last? Paris, in 2015.
BACK IN THE SADDLE: Dimitrov nabbed his second W&S Open semifinal appearance in as many years by thrashing Yuichi Sugita in less than an hour Friday afternoon. Dimitrov advanced with a 6-2, 6-1 win.
“I knew what I had to do against him. From the first point, I think I was on top of the game. That carried me on throughout the whole match,” Dimitrov said.
Dimitrov, who’s making his deepest tournament run since reaching the Round of 16 at Wimbledon, has never won a Masters 1000 title. He lost in last year’s W&S Open semifinals to eventual champ Marin Cilic and has not been in a Masters 1000 semifinal since.
Being back at that stage, especially here, is “a good feeling,” Dimitrov said.
“I like playing in Cincinnati. I love that center court, as well. I think all that brings me good memories and just a positive way of thinking when I come out there on the court,” Dimitrov said.
Sugita on Friday made his Masters 1000 quarterfinal debut. But he couldn’t withstand Dimitrov’s six aces or overwhelming first-serve percentage (92). Sugita only converted two of 26 first return points.
Hard-serving Isner awaits Dimitrov.
The American defeated Viktor Troicki and three straight American wild cards – Tommy Paul, Frances Tiafoe and Jared Donaldson – to reach his first W&S Open semifinal since 2013. He was a finalist that year, too, falling to Nadal.
Isner defeated Donaldson 7-6 (4), 7-5 behind 25 aces and serves that reached 140 miles per hour. The American thought his footwork was off during the match and was glad to get out with the win.
Isner won his only meeting against Dimitrov, in Miami in 2015, and said the Bulgarian is “playing well this week.”
“He’s won some matches pretty easily. I think physically both of us should be coming into this match both feeling pretty good, not too haggard. We both should have a lot of confidence,” Isner said.
“It's going to be a tough match. Very well could be my toughest match. It’s one that I'm looking forward to, and I know he is, as well.”
NEW NO. 1: There’s a new WTA top-ranked doubles player, and her name is Lucie Safarova. The Czech player is assured the No. 1 place in next week’s rankings by virtue of a Friday afternoon victory.
Safarova and countrywoman Barbora Strycova defeated Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 6-3, 7-6 (4) in a match that spanned two days due to Thursday’s rain. With the win, Safarova gained the points she needed to overtake former (injured) partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the rankings.
Safarova took to Twitter to say she was “happy and proud” of the ranking milestone. Tweeted Safarova: “When dream becomes reality” with happy face emojis.
If Pliskova holds on to the No. 1 singles spot, Czech players will lead next week’s singles and doubles rankings. Pliskova said that would be a positive statement on Czech tennis.
“I think we have so many good players, even in doubles. Not only now. I don’t mean only me and Lucie, but overall there is a lot of girls playing good tennis,” Pliskova said.
“I mean, it’s great. Obviously you can see with the result with Fed Cup, we always – not always, but we have won so many times with still some other players. It’s (a) good sign that in Czech Republic the tennis is working well.”
Safarova and Strycova lost their second doubles match Friday, falling to Yung-Jan Chan and Martina Hingis the semifinals.
DOUBLES SCHEDULE: Men’s doubles semifinals play starts Saturday at 1 p.m. with Jamie Murray/Bruno Soares versus Lukasz Kobot and Marcelo Melo on Granstand Court.
The semifinal between Ryan Harrison/Michael Venus and Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut follows on Grandstand.
The women’s doubles final is the last match Saturday night on Center Court. Su-Wei Hsieh and Monica Niculescu face Chan/Hingis for the title.