Surveying Shanghai

Monday, October 12, 2009 /by

Nd No rest for the weary? On the ATP tour, it’s more like no rest for the winners. Today the four finalists in Tokyo and Beijing, after a sweaty week of success, must clean themselves up and get ready for an even more important event, the Shanghai Masters 1000. Fourteen months after the Olympics, the sport is still trying to seed that famous “tennis boom in China.” Seeing the crowds in Beijing last week, it appears that the boom has yet to be heard at home. The stands were more thickly populated in Tokyo. I know China remains the Holy Grail of all emerging markets—we’ll see what the audiences are like in Shanghai—but I feel like I’d rather watch a Masters event from Japan, where the sport is long established. It’s an old question for tennis: Do you expand and chase dollars in new locales, or do you build the game where it already has a foundation?

That's my week’s worth of Monday morning quarterbacking; I wouldn’t be a tennis fan if I didn’t indulge in a little now and then. Just consider yourself lucky I’m not bringing up the length of the season again; maybe that will be a subject for next week, when the guys limp out of Asia and head back to Europe. For now, though, while you were sleeping, the men were getting started in Shanghai—Ivo Karlovic is already gone; see what you missed! Here’s a look at what the rest of them might do in the week ahead.

First Quarter

The year just keeps getting longer for James Blake. He shows up in Shanghai, many miles from home, and who does he find on the other side of the net? Dr. Ace. Now that Blake has survived the very big man, 6-4 in the third, who does he get next? Rafael Nadal, the top seed and the guy who beat him last week. Nadal had some nice moments in his semifinal run to Beijing, but just like at the U.S. Open, he was run off the court by a younger, taller man—that time it was Juan Martin del Potro, this time it was Marin Cilic (who, by the way, looks like he could be the next giant to make a giant breakthrough). I know Rafa is coming back from multiple injuries, but you couldn’t help but notice that he was far from the same player who won an Olympic gold in the same city last year. That may just be the way it goes for Nadal. He was blown away by Tsonga in Australia in 2008 and came back to win the next two Slams.

Rafa's draw in Shanghai is respectable but not quite scary. Blake, who has beaten him three times, may be his toughest opponent. Otherwise, the names of note here are Robredo, Monfils, Hewitt, Isner, and Verdasco, who is playing for a berth in the last eight at the World Tour Final in London (he’s currently ranked No. 9).

Semifinalist: Nadal

Second Quarter

The giant sleeps here. Del Potro will be hungry (thirsty, too) after an opening-round loss in Tokyo, and his draw to the quarters looks like a pretty smooth ride. On the other side is Tsonga, who played nearly flawless lockdown tennis in trouncing Monfils and Youzhny this past weekend. He’ll be weary, and he could face a test in the person of Robin Soderling. Is Tsonga ready for a repeat performance, or is his Asian success going to catch up with him (he also reached the semis in Bangkok). Is del Potro’s post-Open letdown over? I don’t know ether answer, but I’m guessing it will be fun to find out. If the Argentine and the Frenchman play, it could even be a prelude to a late-round Aussie Open showdown in a few months. Tsonga is fighting to reach the WTF in London (he’s currently No. 7) but del Potro is 3-0 in their head-to-heads.

Semifinalist: Del Potro

Third Quarter

Remember Andy Roddick? You can’t say that name without thinking about his Wimbledon loss, can you? The grassy cloud over his head has gotten darker of late—he lost to Polish unknown Lukasz Kubot last week. It looked for a second like Roddick would get a chance at revenge in Shanghai, but Stan Wawrinka beat Kubot in the first round. That means Roddick gets Wawrinka, which may be better news for the American. He handled the Swiss in straight sets earlier this year, though that was in a Davis Cup tie in the States.

On the other side, Nikolay Davydenko and Fernando Gonzalez are slotted to play each other in the round of 16. It’s a hard section to call. Davydenko is 5-0 against Gonzo, but Roddick has winning records against both. I’ll take Kolya based on recent form, his final-round appearance at the Masters Cup in Shanghai last year, and his bubble status to make it back to the WTF (he’s No. 8).

Semifinalist: Davydenko

Fourth Quarter

How much will Novak Djokovic have left after running hard to fend off a strong challenge from Cilic yesterday? You can add that question to the perennial one with the Serb: What will his motivation level be? He wanted it in Beijing, but Ernests Gulbis, a former junior mate, could provide an unpredictable challenge in his opening round. The Latvian has shown signs of life—i.e. he won two matches in a row—of late. After that, Djokovic might see Tommy Haas, who has beaten him twice in 2009.

Elsewhere in this quarter we have the fast-rising Cilic, he of the del Potro-like slap forehand and the absolutely unflappable demeanor; he was positively Borg-like in his loss to Djokovic on Sunday. He’ll need everything he has to recover in time to play Tomas Berdych in the first round in Shanghai. Up top is Gilles Simon, who won a couple of weeks ago in Bangkok and is another WTF bubbler, and Marat Safin, winner of matches against Pete Sampras and Roger Federer way back when.

Semifinalist: Haas

Semifinals: Davydenko d. Haas; Del Potro d. Nadal

Final: Del Potro d. Davydenko

***

Thanks for the prayers for the Phillies this weekend. They obviously worked. Can you give me one more tonight?

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