WATCH: The best shots from Beijing and Tokyo
Last week it was the WTA's turn to stage their mandatory Asian-swing showcase, in Beijing. This week the men follow suit at the ATP Rolex Shanghai Masters. The defending champion from 2017, Roger Federer, is there, but the man he beat in the final, Rafael Nadal, is not. He’s been replaced at the bottom of the draw by his old rival Novak Djokovic.
Federer has 1000 points to defend; Djokovic, who has been gobbling up points over the second half of the year, is looking to pass Federer for the No. 2 spot in the rankings this week. Can anyone prevent them from meeting in the final? Here’s a look ahead at how Shanghai, which is contested on one of the tour’s quickest courts, may play out.
In the past, the conventional wisdom has been that fast courts help Federer, and that has generally been the case in Shanghai, where he has been winning titles since the days when this arena hosted the year-end Tennis Masters Cup. But this summer Federer expressed some reservations about his need for speed; he said he found it hard to control the ball on the similarly fast courts in Cincinnati, where he lost to Djokovic in the final. How will Federer adjust in Shanghai, after more than a month off from tournament tennis? While Federer has won this tournament twice, he’s also lost early in Shanghai twice.
This year he could face a challenge in his opener, from Daniil Medvedev, a young Russian who just beat Kei Nishikori in the final of the 500-level event in Tokyo. On a more reassuring note, the closest seed in Federer’s quarter, Milos Raonic, has already been knocked out, by Mackenzie McDonald.
How will Juan Martin del Potro react after his week at the China Open in Beijing? On the plus side, he reached the final without dropping a set. On the minus side, just when he appeared to be the man to beat, he was beaten, in the final, by relatively unheralded Nikoloz Basilashvili. Delpo reached the final in Shanghai in 2013, and the semis last year; more important, what looked to be a difficult section of the draw has opened up a bit in the last 24 hours, as Nick Kyrgios and Stan Wawrinka have been sent packing.
Who’s left? Borna Coric, potentially, in the third round, and Dominic Thiem in the quarters. By now, the No. 4-ranked Del Potro has a pretty good head of steam built up; he’s usually tough to stop when he does.
Semifinalist Del Potro
Alexander Zverev remains the tour’s question mark of the moment. The German is 46-15 this year and has established himself as a Top 5 player. But he’s been borderline-reeling for two months now. After winning the Citi Open in August, he lost early in Toronto, Cincinnati and at the US Open; last week, even with Ivan Lendl in tow, Zverev failed to close out 61st-ranked Malek Jaziri in his second match.
A turnaround will come eventually, but is Shanghai the place for it to start? Maybe not. Zverev is just 3-2 in his previous two trips to this event, and so far in his career he’s shown a preference for slow courts rather than fast. He could also be tasked with a tough opener, against either Denis Shapovalov or Basalishvili; both of those guys will bring the rallies to Zverev, and may be better equipped for this surface.
Also here: Marin Cilic. He reached the semifinals in Shanghai last year, and has the type of draw that could allow him to do the same this week.
In the old days—the very good old days—Djokovic swept through the Asian swing like he was on automatic pilot. That included three titles in Shanghai in four years. Have those good old days, the days when we could pencil in a Djokovic title virtually every week of the year, returned in full? We’ll get another answer this week when he tries to leapfrog Federer for the No. 2 spot in the rankings, and bring himself 1,000 points closer to Nadal at No. 1.
Djokovic’s draw shouldn’t hinder him. He starts against Jeremy Chardy; the first seed he could face is Marco Cecchinato; and the second-highest seed in his section is Kevin Anderson.
Second-round match to watch: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs. Karen Khachanov
Semifinals: Del Potro d. Federer; Djokovic d. Cilic
Final: Djokovic d. Del Potro
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