Milos Raonic may have missed the Olympics for a pretty hokey reason (i.e.,. hardly anyone is talking about Zika anymore), however at least the Canadian, in skipping Rio, stayed fresh for a tournament that actually offers ranking points. Raonic, with a draw through John Isner and Dominic Thiem in Cincinnati, has put himself into position to seize the World No. 3 ranking. Should he win his semifinal match at the Western & Southern Open, Raonic would earn enough ranking points to leapfrog over Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Stan Wawrinka all at once on Monday. Getting up to the World No. 3 would be a new career high for the Canadian, a player that was ranked 4th in the world for some time in 2015.
Looking just at the short term, a few different events have made the opportunity for Raonic possible. Nadal fell in Cincinnati to Borna Coric; Federer shut his season down last month, and Wawrinka suffered an upset in Cincy as well. Those three players failing to get meaningful points from Cincinnati have opened the door for Raonic.
Looking at the longer-termed events that made Raonic a candidate for No. 3, you’d have to consider Nadal’s injuries this year and Wawrinka’s below-the-radar slump this season (the Swiss player might look good on paper, but he has yet to beat a Top 10 player this season). Lastly but certainly not the least, Raonic’s own successes at both the Australian Open and Wimbledon are a big part of why he is in the mix for such a prestigious ranking right now.
Getting to the World No. 3 is not merely academic either – it would certainly help Raonic out right now. The seeds for the US Open tournament are going to come out soon and, with Federer sidelined, Raonic projects to a No. 5 seed at the US Open. That’s a bad spot for a contender to be, because it could get you a match against a higher seed in the quarterfinals. If Raonic, for example, was to land Novak Djokovic in the US Open quarters the difference between a 3-seed and 5-seed could cost him a round. A player seeded third doesn’t have to play anyone ranked higher than himself until at least the semifinals, a very good position to be in.
If Djokovic stays injured, then Raonic could even get a No. 2 seed in New York. However, in order to look at those possibilities, the Canadian first will have to slay a giant. Next up in the Cincinnati semifinals is Andy Murray. The Scot was in Raonic’s way at the All England Club last month and at the Aegon Championships a little further back. Raonic will enter the semifinals as the underdog, with his chances perhaps redeemed by the best-of-three-set format and the chance that Murray, who won the Olympic final last weekend, might run out of gas soon.
Looking at the whole remaining field in Cincinnati, the lower half of the draw has the weaker semifinal. Grigor Dimitrov remains alive in an effort that resurrects his 2016 season on the ATP Tour. This is a guy whose player bio at the ATP’s website says his “Ambition is to be World No. 1.” Currently ranked 34th and no longer a young gun, it seems time for him to make his move.
Dimitrov will face Marin Cilic, a player that appears to be peaking at a time of year that has been fruitful for him before. If Dimitrov and Cilic are both playing at a high level, then their semifinal is a near coin toss. However, Cilic has been the more consistent player this year, and he’s a win away from getting back to the Top 10.
The Cincinnati final projects to Murray vs. Cilic, which could be a preview of an upcoming deep-round US Open match. Most, including me, would give Murray the nod for the title as the Scot generally has the endurance to cross finish lines when facing inferior opponents. However, whether he’s tired following the Rio draw and the Cincy draw is one question that will be answered soon. There’s also a question of what kind of tennis Dimitrov is actually playing right now. At his best, he’s as much of a contender as either Raonic or Cilic.