Cincinnati: Djokovic delight, Swiatek soars

The world's very best players are wielding their rackets stateside with the US Open around the corner.

Novak Djokovic / Wimbledon 2023©Corinne Dubreuil / FFT
 - Alex Sharp

In under a fortnight the fourth and final Grand Slam of 2023 will be on centre stage in New York.

The stars of the show are fine-tuning in ATP Masters 1000 and WTA 1000 action at the combined Western & Southern Open. Let's catch up with the latest news from Cincinnati, USA.

Duel of the veterans

Back in American competition since the US Open 2021 final, Novak Djokovic returned to court with a beaming smile.

Moving on from Wimbledon final heartbreak, it's been a period of family time and recuperation for the incessantly ambitious world No.2.

On Wednesday night, the 23-time Grand Slam champion led Alejandro Davidovich Fokina 6-4 before the Spaniard was forced to retire with a back injury.

"It's never the way you like to win… Of course it's great for me to be able to come back to the court and win a match. I'm hoping that I can build my form day to day and progress through the tournament with raising the level," stated the forward-thinking Serbian. 

“I like the feeling that I have after 20 plus years of professional tennis. There's still fire going.

"There's still that drive and motivation to really come at the biggest events in sport and try to win, try to win titles and try to bring some good sensation to the crowds.”

The 36-year-old, who holds a record 38 Masters titles, will aim to extend his unblemished 18-0 head-to-head facing the rejuvenated Gael Monfils.

The mercurial Frenchman is in inspired form, toppling Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to the Toronto Masters elite eight last week, and he's transferred that form over to Ohio.

The 36-year-old backed up a three-set seesaw with Cameron Norrie with a hot-shot laden 7-5, 6-4 passage past Toronto finalist Alex de Minaur.

"He's an amazing guy. Someone I truly respect and like a lot as a person," said Djokovic, hailing the Frenchman.

"He brings so much joy to the fans, so much entertainment. One of the most charismatic players that we've had in the past two decades on the Tour.

"It's great to see him back after several years of struggling with injuries. He's playing as good as ever. He's a year older than me. Everybody talks about my age, but what about him! He's doing amazing, so it's going to be a duel of the veterans tomorrow I guess."

Proactive Pole earns Qinwen test          

Last Friday world No.1 Iga Swiatek required three sets to fend off Danielle Collins in Montreal. Fast forward to Cincinnati and the clinical top seed swatted aside the American 6-1, 6-0.

"It was a really solid match and I felt I'm not doing a lot of mistakes," said the Roland-Garros champion. "I'm happy I didn't give anything for free. I could be proactive and not really over analyze everything, just go for it. I'm happy that I did that."

Swiatek rolls on for a Last 16 clash with Chinese prodigy Zheng Qinwen.

The world No.24, 0-3 in battles with Swiatek, reeled in evergreen Venus Williams from a set and 2-0 down to prevail 1-6, 6-2, 6-1 on Wednesday.

Tommy test again for Alcaraz

For the past two seasons Tommy Paul has claimed glory in three-set thrillers facing Carlos Alcaraz at the Canadian Masters.

It was just last week the 26-year-old ousted the world No.1 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 in Toronto and they have a third-round re-match in Cincinnati.

“It helps a little bit, but at the same time, it probably doesn't hurt him,” Paul told reporters in Ohio after his 6-1, 7-6(4) victory over in-form Ugo Humbert.

“He probably feels less pressure this week to play me than he did last week. So I think it's going to be a very, very tricky and tough match.

“He's obviously an unbelievable player. But when I play him, it's just like there's more energy around the match and I'm more excited to play those matches. I'm really looking forward to this."

Turbulent ride for seeds

Let's take a quick dive into more Cincinnati results.

No.3 seed Daniil Medvedev swept aside Lorenzo Musetti in straight sets for the second successive week and world No.4 Stefanos Tsitsipas shone on the pivotal points to defy Ben Shelton 7-6(3), 7-6(2). 

However, there have been a multitude of seeded shocks.

Australian qualifier Max Purcell ousted No.5 seed Casper Ruud in the decider, whilst Dusan Lajovic pounced 6-4, 7-6(4) to edge beleaguered Toronto champion Jannik Sinner.

No.6 seed Andrey Rublev departed at the first hurdle to Emil Ruusuvouri and Stan Wawrinka's cannonball backhand gained plenty of applause during a blistering 6-3, 6-4 victory against No.10 seed Frances Tiafoe.

Both defending champions have succumbed to an early exit. Hubert Hurkacz dispatched 2022 winner Borna Coric with a three-set comeback. On the women's side a partisan home crowd roared on Sloane Stephens to 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 over Caroline Garcia. 

However, Elena Rybakina escaped 6-4 in the decider over the net from Jelena Ostapenko to book a Last 16 ticket. World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka was also taken the distance 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 to hold off American qualifier Ann Li.

Title contenders including Coco Gauff, Jessica Pegula and Ons Jabeur remain in the draw.

Gauff, 7-1 since Wimbledon, will face a player younger then her for just the fourth time in her miraculous career. The 19-year-old will go toe-to-toe with Czech youngster Linda Noskova. The 18-year-old earned a Last 16 spot in three sets against compatriot Petra Kvitova.