Two enter, only one shall leave as champion. It’s golden opportunity for Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios today when they meet in the Western & Southern Open final. Both are contesting their first Masters-level final with Dimitrov winning their lone meeting before today in three sets at Indian Wells in 2015.
(7) Grigor Dimitrov vs Nick Kyrgios
Upsets and withdrawals have led to an unexpected final in Cincinnati on Sunday, but about as good as organizers could have hoped for given the field that was left. Dimitrov followed up a semifinal run in 2016 with a trip to the finals this year and he’s done it with solid serving and timely tennis. Both those things were on display on Saturday as Dimitrov topped John Isner 7-6 (4), 7-6 (10) in the semifinals. The 7th seed won 83 percent of his first serve points and saved both break chances against his serve. He popped ten aces and also posted a stout 63 percent win rate on second serve. Dimitrov did not break Isner, but if there’s probably not much better preparation for facing Kyrgios’ bullet serve than seeing Isner’s rockets yesterday.
As for Kyrgios, he followed up his upset of top seeded Rafael Nadal with a pesky 7-6 (3), 7-6 (4) win over a rejuvenated David Ferrer. Kyrgios was nearly flawless on his first serve, taking 43 of 48 points. He had a small struggle on second serve, taking just 62 percent of the points. He smashed 14 aces to offset four double faults. Kyrgios was not broken on three chances against his serve. Surprisingly, it was the first match since his opener against David Goffin where Kyrgios was not broken in Cincy this week.
For the week, Dimitrov has produced some of his best serving of the season. The big thing for him has been consistency and that has led him to being broken just one time on ten chances. His win rate on first serve is averaging right at 83 percent. It would be in the upper 80s if not for a pedestrian 73 percent win rate against Juan Martin Del Potro. Otherwise, Dimitrov has been consistently winning over 80 percent on his first serve. His second hasn’t looked much worse, winning no less than 63 percent of the points in any match. Dimitrov has also gotten his fair share of freebies with 36 aces.
Kyrgios has been broken three times on 15 chances, an average of just three break points against through five matches this week. Kyrgios has been nearly unstoppable with his first serve in rhythm this week. He’s winning right at 88 percent off his first serve this week. His second has been just as good, winning over 70 percent of the points in four of his five matches. NK’s last match against Ferrer was his worst with his second serve, taking just 52 percent of the points. Kyrgios has 57 aces for the week, an average of just over ten per match.
Kyrgios wants to play at lightning speed. Serve big, get cheap points, rinse and repeat. Don’t be surprised to see Dimitrov try to slow the tempo some in an effort to upset Kyrgios’ rhythm and timing. If Kyrgios gets into that quick and aggressive rhythm on serve early and keeps it, he’ll be nearly impossible to break and less likely to lose. Dimitrov’s mentality won’t change much if any from his semifinal against Isner. He will know that a lot of balls are going to fly past him on serve. He has to move on and set up for the next ball. Kyrgios will want to continue to place the ball with speed and accuracy, so that when Dimitrov does get a return, the next ball is an easy put away for the Aussie with the Bulgarian in bad court position off the return.
Dimitrov won’t get as many free points as Kyrgios, but he can be just as effective on serve and will need to be. Placement is a key for the Bulgarian and you’d expect him to target the backhand return of NK more often. When he goes out wide to the forehand side, Dimitrov will need to put enough mustard on his serve to take Kyrgios into an off-balance position. That will in turn allow Dimitrov control of the court and the option to make Kyrgios run. Off the ground, Kyrgios obviously wants to nail that forehand as many times as often. His backhand is adequate, but a bit more of a set-up shot than a finisher. Dimitrov can finish can use his one hander off the backhand side equally to finish and set up shots.
If there are longer ground rallies, Dimitrov should feel better about his variety winning out. I think a key for Dimitrov as always is being aggressive and decisive off the ground. When he doesn’t overthink shots, he’s much more lethal and will cause more trouble for Kyrgios. Given Kyrgios’ pace of play, things could work to Dimitrov’s advantage in that regard. Look for Kyrgios to continue to hit big and go for winner as he’s done all week. Errors will come, but he’ll hope he again has more winners in his bag.
The Pig’s Bottom Line
Their match at Indian Wells in 2015 was an interesting one where Kyrgios twisted an ankle late in the third set. NK said it definitely effected him as he was broken for the only time after that happened. Dimitrov would pull out the win 7-6 (2), 4-6, 7-6 (4). That match could be plenty of what we see today with few break chances and one or two breaks of serve perhaps making the difference in the match. Dimitrov has two title wins this year, while Kyrgios is playing his first final since Tokyo last fall.
NK has proven to be very tough in finals at 3-1, while Dimitrov is 6-5 overall in ATP finals. While Dimitrov did have good practice for Kyrgios’ serve against Isner, I wonder if he can replicate the tense mindset of knowing that one break is deadly. Kyrgios has played his best stretch of tennis for the season and has been engaged and focused – at least as much as you can expect from him. This truly to me is about as much of a 50-50 match as you can find right now on tour. I’ll give the slight edge to Kyrgios in this one, where Dimitrov might not do much wrong, but still fall on the wrong side of the result.
Prediction: Kyrgios wins in straight sets