Move -ova, it's the -evs

A friend and I have been noting for a while that to win a trophy in women's pro tennis these days, you have to beat, or be, somebody whose last name ends in -ova. This weekend in Cincinnati, on the men's side, it was somebody whose last name ends in -ev.

Sascha Zverev (left), the Olympic gold medalist from Germany, easily defeated his longtime peer Andrey Rublev to win the Western & Southern Open. And to make it to the finals, Rublev had to get past fellow Russian Daniil Medvedev. That's the three -evs in the final four.

I didn't catch too much of the action, but I did see what I think turned out to be a turning point in the tourney. Cruising along in the second set against against Rublev, Medvedev, who plays further back from the net than just about anybody, crashed into a big television camera and hurt his hand. Apparently he had complained about the placement of the camera before. He kicked the lens. It went downhill for him from there.

On the women's side, the -ovas exited prematurely. In the end, Ash Barty of Australia made short work of the Cinderella of the tournament, Jil Teichmann of Switzerland. Here, too, I was watching during a key moment. In the round of 16, the relatively unknown Teichmann, down a set to the highly ranked Naomi Osaka, dug deep and won two sets 6-3. Osaka, whose fragile mental state has been making headlines this summer, looked mighty shaky, and a little out of shape.

Teichmann took off from there, beating fellow Swiss (and Olympic gold medalist) Belinda Bencic, and then the Czech star Karolina Pliskova, each in straight sets. But she was no match for Barty today.

Next week will see action in North Carolina for the men. There are lesser women's tournaments already under way in Cleveland and Chicago. But then it's on to the big show, the U.S. Open, the last grand slam event of the year. 

On the men's side, the question becomes who will be able to beat Novak Djokovic of Serbia, who didn't play this week, in the Big Apple. If he wins, he will have completed a calendar year grand slam, the first man to do so since 1969, and won the most major tournament titles of any man in history. But having behaved like a villain at the Olympics, and having been thrown out of last year's U.S. Open for ball abuse that injured an umpire, the Djoker will be hearing Bronx cheers from the stands all week long. New York fans are particularly rude. It ain't Wimbledon.

Novak's competition will not include Roger Federer, who's in for more knee surgery, or Rafael Nadal, who's got a bad foot. Dominic Thiem, who won last year, is also out, with a wrist injury. And so the prime candidates for white knight to take down the Djoker will be Zverev, Medvedev, and less likely, Rublev and Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

Zverev is 3-6 against Djokovic, but beat him in the Olympics just concluded. Medvedev is 3-5 against Djokovic, but the Russian has won 3 out of the last 5. Tsitsipas is 2-6, and has lost 5 straight to the Serb. As far as I can tell, Rublev has never played him.

The women's side is always less predictable, but Barty will probably open in New York as the favorite. Osaka has a U.S. Open championship trophy, but she seems unlikely to pick up another one this year. As the gamblers say, I'm fading her.

Serena Williams will make trouble for some people, but she won't be around at the end. Aryna Sabalenka will be shrieking away, across the net from the fiercely chiseled and dangerous Maria Sakkari. Other names we have learned to pronounce, and will hear again in early September, are Iga Swiatek, Bianca Andreescu, Simona Halep, Coco Gauff, and GarbiƱe Muguruza. And there will always be the -ovas, including Pliskova, Barbora Krejcikova, Petra Kvitova, and Marketa Vondrousova. If Barty gets beat, it's wide open.

But I do wonder about the wisdom of putting all those thousands of unmasked spectators together, even for an outdoor event. There's a whole lotta virus goin' on. Denial is not just a river in Egypt.