Back to back Masters 1000 events! That only happens three times on the calendar — in March with Indian Wells and Miami, in May with Madrid and Rome and here with Canada and Cincinnati. Cincinnati is also the last major stop on the summer hard court tour before the US Open. That means everyone attends and this year is no different, with every player who is in the top 40, who is healthy enough to play, travelling to Cincy (Anderson, Delpo and Raonic are all out with injury).
Being a back to back situation, just about the entire Montreal field moves to Cincinnati, with only ten players in the main draw having not played last week. However, unlike the other back-to-backs, there is very little repeating of champions from Canada to Cincinnati. The Sunshine Double between Indian Wells and Miami has been accomplished thirteen times since Miami came into existence in 1985 (Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Sampras, Rios, Agassi, Federer x3, Djokovic x4). The Madrid tournament has only been on clay (and in May) since 2009 and so the Madrid-Rome double has only been completed three times (Rafa x2, Djokovic). The Canada-Cincy double? The tournaments have both been around for 100 years but, were only finally aligned in 1980. They have bee won back-to-back only four times (Agassi, Rafter, Roddick, Nadal). Federer’s ability to only win two Canadian Opens and Djokovic’s ability to only win one Cincinnati Masters (last year!) probably contributes to the low number here. Factors that many think would contribute to a bunch of continuity between the two tournaments are the conditions. Montreal and Toronto are usually considered medium paced hard courts, while Cincinnati routinely has a CPI in the mid-30’s, also medium-paced. Both tournament also use the same Penn balls. But, despite all that, only Cilic in 2018 and Djokovic and Murry in 2015 have made back-to-back quarter-finals during these two weeks in the last five years.
What Cincinnati does share with Canada (and other Masters 1000’s) though, is a distinct chalky feel — with the winner being amoung the top players in the world every year. “Surprising” winners here would include #16 seed Carlos Moya in 2002 (who, of course was already a Grand Slam champ by then), #11 Agassi in 2004 (who, of course, was already Agassi), #9 Andy Roddick in 2006 (who, of course, was already a Grand Slam champion), and #12 Marin Cilic in 2016 (who had won the US Open in 2014). The only true shock winner would be Grigor Dimitrov in 2017. He was seeded 7th and had no previous Slam or Masters series titles.
So, we’re looking for top seeded guys, who didn’t go deep in Montreal, and who dominant on hard courts (every finalist in the last five years has had a combined hold/break number on hards of 105% or more).
I wonder which two guys fit that bill…..
Surprisingly, Federer and Djokovic both landed in the top half. Neither attended Montreal, both have past titles here, and they are generally considered the two best hard court players alive (no shame there Rafa, he won the 2017 US Open without facing either, and has made back to back finals in Canada without facing either). Their combined hold/break numbers on hard courts are so far above everyone else (except Rafa ) that they are essentially in their own class. Federer is the only person in the draw who has been able to sustain a number above 115% in each of the past three years (Rafa and Djokovic are two for three, with a 111% and a 113% thrown in for each of them), and Federer and Djokovic met in the final here last year (and in 2015 and in 2012 and in 2009). They are obviously the pick of the litter, so to speak, but, with odds of +150 and +450 and a massively high probability of meeting in the semi-final, they seem like a hard pick to make. The best bet for these two may be to parlay their quarter prices (much like we did at Wimbledon!!)
The best option, for an outright, may be to look in the bottom half of the draw. Rafa looms in the #2 seed but, there is a high probability he pulls out now that he has secured that same #2 seed at the US Open, and even if he plays, the likelihood of a back-to-back was laid out above. So, the next tier of hard court players, below, the big three are, Alex Zverev, Daniil Medvedev, Roberto Bautista Agut, Kei Nishikori, David Goffin, and Gael Monfils. They are the six players who consistently keep their hold/break numbers above 105% every year, if not at the elite levels of the big three. Zverev is in the bottom half but is having a miserable season, winning only one small 250 level event. Medvedev is amazing on outdoor hard courts (two titles, Sydney and Winston Salem, and four more finals) but, he is coming off back-to-back finals in Washington and Montreal and he landed in the top half of the draw. Nishikori, Goffin and Monfils all landed in the bottom half but, all three have both injury concerns and a serious lack of success against the big three, so it is easy to discard them.
That leaves Roberto Bautista Agut. He is in the third quarter, which looks to be the most attackable. It contains Thiem and Zverev as the big seeds. Zverev’s troubles in 2019 are well documented and Thiem has five combined wins in his career between Canada and Cincinnati. RBA has really solid hard court numbers and he’s having a great 2019. He’s won Doha and made the quater-finals in Melbourne on hard courts this year and he’s beaten Novak twice already in 2019. The concerns would be that he went to the quarters in Montreal, which can be a detriment and he’s been pummeled by Nadal and Federer; he’s 0–12 against those two. At 33/1 he is an interesting option though.
One other flyer worth considering, especially if Nadal, drops out opening up the bottom half, is Marin Cilic. He isn’t having the best of seasons in 2019 but, he is turning things around. A quarter-final in Washington was followed by a third round loss in Montreal where he was the much better player. He won this event in 2016 and he went to the semis here last year. He was able to achieve an elite level 110% hold/break number on hards last year and is very capable of returning to that level. He doesn’t have a great record against the big three but, no one does, and he has at least beaten each of them on hard courts in the past.
This is the kind of tournament where you should drop big money on the chalky options or look to back some big named long shots for small dollars.
Novak/Fed quarter winners parlay, +??? (when it opens) full unit
RBA outright, +3300, x0.5
Cilic outright, +3300, x0.5