Barty and Zverev in the zone for US Open title tilt

The US Open is just a week away and the action Stateside has been brimming with quality over in Ohio.

Ashleigh Barty Cincinnati 2021©Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP
 - Alex Sharp

You can tell a lot about a champion from the reaction and words their opponents offer up.

“Ash is a really, really complete player. She's an exceptional No.1. I really have to say that."

Jil Teichmann constructed a majestic week in Cincinnati, including statement victories over reigning US Open champion Naomi Osaka, Wimbledon finalist Karolina Pliskova and Tokyo gold medallist Belinda Bencic

However, the Swiss was swept aside in the final in Ohio by world No.1 Ash Barty 6-3, 6-1 on Sunday. 

This ‘complete player’ was conjuring up captivating, crafty tennis all week without dropping a set facing Heather Watson, Victoria Azarenka, Roland-Garros winner Barbora Krejcikova, before claiming nine of the last 10 games to dismiss Teichmann. 

Leading the title charge 

2021 has been a stellar season for the Australian and that’s an understatement.

Since returning to the tour this campaign (having been sidelined for eight months in 2020), Barty has led the WTA with 40 match wins and five titles, which includes her second Grand Slam at Wimbledon last month, an Olympic bronze medal and an impeccable 14-1 record versus Top 20 opposition. 

As ever the Queenslander was eager to hail her coaching and support team, coaxing them onto the court in Cincinnati to join in the trophy presentation photos. 

“It takes a village,” Barty posted on Instagram – signalling the team effort, who are enabling the Australian to build to a crescendo when it matters.

“I feel like I was able to really trust myself and play with confidence, get after the ball, be aggressive and get a bit of a run on, which was going to be important in a big final," stated the world No.1 after lifting a 13th career title. 

“This week it was completely non result-focused. It was about preparing in the best way possible. 

“I think we're just excited that we've got matches under our belt in tough conditions here in Cincy, and that's put us in really good stead going into New York.”

Barty, who was only broken six times across five matches with dominant displays, will be seeking a deeper run at Flushing Meadows. Her previous US Open best was to venture to the fourth round in 2018 and 2019. Now the world No.1 is the clear favourite to shoot for a third major in the Big Apple.

"Our practice weeks before Grand Slams are quite normal," added Barty. "There is nothing fancy, no extra emphasis on anything. 

“It's just gauged by how I'm feeling physically, how I'm feeling mentally, and we have had a lot of practice now as a team in being able to read each other and what we think is required, and then it's about going out there for the first round and try to do the best that I can. That's all I can ask of myself."

Alexander Zverev Cincinnati 2021©Matthew Stockman/Getty Images/AFP

Zverev continues the gold rush 

Notable names were absent from the men’s side in Cincinnati. Defending champion Novak Djokovic preferred to assemble his artillery away from the spotlight, whilst we unfortunately learned that the major trio of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem would be sidelined for the remainder of the season.

Saying that, the Cincinnati Masters delivered an absorbing week. For only the sixth time in Masters 1000 history, the top four seeds made up the semi-finals line-up. Magnifying the sense that the balance of power is shifting, the last time this happened was 2009 with the ‘Big Four’ in the final four. 

Daniil Medvedev is a 2019 finalist at Flushing Meadows, Stefanos Tsitsipas leads the ATP with a 48-14 match record this campaign. Then Cincinnati finalists Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev complete the quartet.

Having never won a match on these courts in six previous appearances, Zverev replicated his ferocious form from Tokyo 2020 to soar to a fifth Masters crown with a 6-2, 6-3 demolition of close friend Rublev in just 59 minutes.

The Olympic gold medallist has now replaced Nadal as the world No.4 and showed why. On Saturday night the 24-year-old rallied from a break down in the decider to edge a thriller against Tsitsipas, prior to extending his winning streak to 11 matches in the final. 

“I don’t want to get ahead of myself yet. I won the gold medal and just won a Masters, which I am very happy about and It is an incredible feeling going into the US Open,” mused the the first player to win Olympic gold and Cincinnati in the same year since Andre Agassi in 1996. 

For Zverev the timing is perfect, seeking to erase the heartbreaking US Open loss last fall. 

The German surrendered a two-sets advantage before falling short in the final-set tie-break against Thiem in his first Grand Slam final.

Zverev, fresh from a spectacular comeback against Djokovic out at Tokyo 2020, is determined to re-write his US Open story. 

“You actually learn much more from losses than from wins. Losses motivate you in the way that you want to do better next time,” stated Zverev. 

“Tennis is a very short-term memory sport. You need to have success, put it in your pocket and put it in the back of the brain and know you can do it, but then go out there and do it again.

“For me, it’s now about making the next step, winning the big titles.”