By Jane Voigt
It’s easy to forget how lucky some of us were when summer tennis put us within a couple time zones of tournaments. That’s not so true now. Tennis has shifted to Asia, which is at least 12 hours ahead of New York City, the site of the last Grand Slam of the year.
This week, The Shanghai Rolex Masters 1000 is the name of the tennis game. It’s the eighth of nine Master 1000 tournaments for the year. With lots of ranking points out there, and a few elite players vying for five of eight remaining spots in The Barclay’s ATP World Tour Final, competition should be vigorous. Only Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and Roger Federer have qualified for the Tour Final at the O2 Arena in London.
Shanghai, as all other tournaments of this level, calls to arms 64 top players, which includes 7 qualifiers and 4 wild card entries. Three wild cards are Chinese: Chuhan Wang (No. 553 in world); Ze Zhang (No. 190); and Di Wu (No. 230). Juan Monaco of Argentina is the fourth.
Outside of them, the draw evokes a sense of familiarity. The top four seeds are: Djokovic at No. 1; Nadal (No. 2); Federer (No. 3); and Stan Wawrinka (No. 4). The fourth seat of the so-called Big Four quartet — Andy Murray — is seeded No. 11 this week.
Djokovic won his 4th China Open on Sunday. He didn’t drop a set the entire tournament and crushed Tomas Berdych, 60 62, in the final. There really was nothing for the Czech to do, but go for broke as Novak hit lines and returned serves with the precision of a surgeon. “I met somebody in the final who I’ve never seen before,” Berdych told the ATP. He saved himself from a double-bagel loss, as Novak served for the title at 6-0 5-0. Berdych raised his arms in triumph and smiled, breaking to 1-5. The little things mattered.
Nadal, in his first appearance on tour since his fourth round loss at Wimbledon, was booted from Beijing by Qualifier Martin Klizan. Federer hasn’t played a tournament since The U. S. Open. And Stan Wawrinka probably wants a spot in the Barclay’s ATP Tour final, but was lackluster in his first round loss to Wild Card Tatsuma Ito in Tokyo. David Ferrer, seeded number two, also fell out of the draw in round one.
Kei Nishikori, though, is on a tear to book a berth in London. His two titles over the last month — Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo — put him within reach of an inaugural visit. Marin Cilic, the U. S. Open champion and hopeful eight, snagged his chances as he lost to Murray in the quarterfinals of Beijing and, to top that off, lost to fellow Croatian, Ivo Karlovic, today. Milos Raonic would also appear in London for the first time; he is neck-in-neck for points with Nishikori.
The scene in Shanghai looks rather different, though, if we look through the eyes of the three Chinese wild cards. Their aspirations for the week are not confused by pressure to bump their rankings. It’s never going to happen, which is fine with them more than likely. The opportunity is big enough. We’ll see how they do against a tough field.
The toughest person to face in Shanghai has to be Djokovic. He’s here to win a third consecutive title. Given the momentum under his wings from Beijing, he will be hard to dethrone. Ferrer, Federer, and Nishikori are in his half of the draw. These players will take to the courts beginning Wednesday.