Last week the women reached their Asian Everest at the China Open. This week the men top out at the Shanghai Rolex Masters. It’s the ATP’s first mandatory event since the U.S. Open, and the penultimate Masters tournament of 2013. It will mark the first sighting of Roger Federer since his fourth-round loss at Flushing Meadows, and will help decide the fates of those, including Federer, who are racing for the final spots in the tour’s season-ending championships in London. And while Rafael Nadal is likely going to be the year-end No. 1—he extended his lead despite losing on Sunday—it’s clear after Novak Djokovic’s win in Beijing that there are still important matches to be played at the top of the rankings. Shanghai is on late in the States, but it will be worth a watch. Here’s a look at the draw, and what we might see from it.
Djokovic has been demoted in the rankings, but the seedings haven’t caught up with that development. He still occupies the top bracket in Shanghai. He’ll try to complete the second leg of his Asian double defense: In 2012, Djokovic won in Beijing, then followed it up by saving match points in the final against Andy Murray in Shanghai. Even if he’s tired this time, Nole shouldn’t have any trouble getting off to a good start. He faces Marcel Granollers in his opener. The two have played six sets, and Djokovic has dropped eight games.
Of greater intrigue is his possible quarterfinal opponent: Roger Federer. It’s unclear to me whether Federer is planning to use a new, larger frame in Shanghai, but he says he feels good, and after five weeks off, he’s plenty rested—of course, rest can turn to rust, as it did when he returned from a long break in Madrid this year and lost early. If memories and fan love mean anything, Federer will benefit from both. He won the World Tour Finals in Shanghai twice, and remains a favorite with the crowds there. We’ll see what happens—après Robredo, le deluge? Federer starts with the winner between Lleyton Hewitt and Andreas Seppi. It’s about time Rog and Nole met; they haven’t played at all in 2013.
Possible second-round match to watch: Gasquet vs. Monfils.
Gasquet is 20 points behind Stan Wawrinka in the race for the last spot in London; Federer is 85 points ahead of Wawrinka. All of their roads could be made easier if the sidelined Andy Murray officially pulls out of the World Tour Finals. He's seeing the doctor this week.
Packing Djokovic and Federer in one quarter is nice for that quarter, but it leaves the others a little barren of authority and star power. David Ferrer and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are the top seeds in this section, which means one thing: opportunity. Jo is still getting back in the swing after a knee injury, and Ferrer hasn’t been his usual self since losing the French Open final. Tsonga opens against Andujar, Ferrer against Rosol. Tsonga has some extra motivation: He's 11th in the race to London, 320 points behind No. 8 Wawrinka.
First-round match to watch: Grigor Dimitrov vs. Kei Nishikori. The Bulgarian announced today that he’ll be working with Tsonga’s old coach, Roger Rasheed.
The question here may be: Will Juan Martin del Potro’s win in Tokyo mean momentum, or exhaustion? He has come away gassed after wins in the past, though last fall he won titles in back-to-back weeks in Vienna and Basel. Del Potro looked very solid in Tokyo, though his draw here could be tricky. His first match will likely be against Philipp Kohlschreiber. He’s 5-0 against Kohlschreiber, but the German is a tough opponent on little rest. After that, del Potro could face Tommy Haas in the round of 16 and Tomas Berdych in the quarters. We’ll see how Berdych fares after retiring with a back injury in the semis in Bejing. Haas is a fairly long shot for London.
Also here: Bernard Tomic, Nicolas Almagro
Semifinalist: Del Potro
World No. 1 Nadal will start at the bottom of this draw and work his way up. It could be an uphill climb. Nadal has never won the Shanghai Masters. In fact, since 2005, he has won just one tournament that was played after the U.S. Open (Tokyo in 2010). The last time he played Shanghai, in 2011, he lost to Florian Mayer in his second match.
In the past, Nadal has used up a lot of energy in the first half of the year, and broken down in the second half. This time he got off to a late start, which should help, but he has played, and won, a lot of matches since. He nearly went out to Fabio Fognini in Beijing, and never got going against Djokovic in the final. We’ll see where he is, physically and mentally, after that. Nadal will open against the winner of Dolgopolov and Russell. A test could come in the next round, where he might face John Isner. If he gets past that missile launcher, he may see another in the quarters: Milos Raonic is in this section.
Also here: Stan Wawrinka
Wawrinka is currently in the last spot for London, 20 points ahead of Gasquet and 85 behind Federer. Raonic is roughly 300 points behind them.
Semifinals: Djokovic d. Tsonga; Del Potro d. Nadal
Final: Djokovic d. Del Potro