Top seeds Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams got their campaign at the Cincinnati Masters, the last major warm-up tournament before the US Open begins at the end of August, off to a winning start on Wednesday.
Williams put a lot of emotion into her 7-5, 6-3 victory over Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova. while Djokovic beat Frenchman Benoit Paire 7-5, 6-2. Fifth-seeded Stan Wawrinka, third-seeded Andy Murray, and eight-seeded Rafael Nadal also advanced.
Williams won in Cincinnati for the first time last year, getting one of the few titles that had eluded her. This year, she's using it as a final tune-up for the US Open, where she will try to complete a rare Grand Slam sweep.
For her, this week is about getting her game ready to take a swing at history. "I think it could be a lot better," she said. "It's not where I would want it ideally, but, you know, I'm going to have to fix that more mentally than anything. I think once I lock in there I will be OK."
She's already starting to get locked in on New York by limiting her responsibilities away from the court. "I'm really trying to stay away from stress and stay away from press," Williams said. "But, you know, that's a little difficult.
"I don't necessarily want to hear about, 'Oh, this history and that history,' because I just want to be able to do the best that I can. I want to be able to win and I don't want any distractions. That's how I'm going to handle it."
The top-ranked Williams was coming off a loss to on-the-rise Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic on Saturday night in Toronto in the Rogers Cup semi-finals. Third-seeded Simona Halep, runner-up at Toronto, also advanced, but fifth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki lost to Victoria Azarenka 6-0, 6-4.
On the men's side, Djokovic waited out a long rain delay before his match started, and then wasted chances to close it out quickly. He converted only 5 of 15 break points. The first set lasted 64 minutes, with Paire using drop shots to keep Djokovic guessing. "It was a strange match all in all, but the instructions I got from the coach was to expect the unexpected, and that was the case," Djokovic said. "You couldn't really predict what kind of shot comes your way."
Djokovic has never won in Cincinnati, losing the finals to Andy Murray in 2008 and 2011, and to Roger Federer in 2009 and 2012. A title this week would make him the first player to win all nine ATP Masters 1000 events.
Murray, who beat Djokovic to win in Montreal on Sunday, beat Mardy Fish 6-4, 7-6 (1) in a match featuring a flurry of service breaks. There were four late in the second set, with Murray breaking Fish to tie it 6-6. They traded points in the tiebreaker before Murray ran off six in a row to close it out.
"He made it very tricky for me," said Murray, who will face Bulgaria's Grigor Dimitrov on Thursday. "The conditions were tough. It was very humid."
Nadal knocked off Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 6-4 in a match that ended at 12:43 am Chardy fought off four match points before Nadal finished it off. He'll play Feliciano Lopez on Thursday.
Wawrinka unhappy with Kyrgios' 'apology'
World number five Wawrinka fought back from a set down to defeat Croatia's Borna Coric 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-3, but later admitted last week's controversy surrounding Nick Kyrgios' controversial comments towards him in their encounter at the Rogers Cup in Montreal was still on his mind.
Kyrgios said, "Kokkinakis banged your girlfriend. Sorry to tell you that, mate" in reference to tennis player and Australian Davis Cup teammate Thanasi Kokkinakis and 19-year-old Croatian player Donna Vekic, Wawrinka's alleged girlfriend.
Kyrgios, who was fined by the ATP for his courtside sledge, later issued a statement apologising for his remarks, insisting they were made 'in the heat of the moment.' However, Wawrinka said Kyrgios's apology didn't go far enough.
"He didn't really apologise to the people. He should. That's it. That simple," Wawrinka said. "There was a lot of anger in the locker room about what he did. As a player, you realise more what he did and what is the consequence for the private lives of people involved.
"They were not just a few words. With one sentence, he can touch and hurt a lot of people. I had a lot of support in the locker room, that's for sure."