WATCH—Juan Martin del Potro's injury scare in Shanghai:
ATP fans have been waiting for this one. Djokovic is a former, and probably future, world No. 1; Zverev is the man many expect to replace him there someday. Even better, they’ve met just once, last year in Rome. On that day, Zverev was in breakthrough mode; the 20-year-old was playing in his first Masters 1000 final. Djokovic, meanwhile, was in fade-out mode; after largely dominating the tour for five years, he would fail to win any majors or Masters 1000 events in 2017.
Seventeen months later, everything is different. Djokovic is back in top form, having won Wimbledon and the US Open, while Zverev, despite owning a tour-high 49 wins this season, has hit a roadblock at the Slams. The slick hard-court surface in Shanghai is also very different from the red clay in Rome.
What will it all add up to? Lots of rallies; these are two of the steadiest shotmakers in the game, and neither is overly comfortable at net. But on this surface, I’d also expect them to try to take control of those rallies a little earlier than they usually do. Judging by his form over the last three months, his desire to get back to No. 1, and his three previous titles at this event, I’m going to say Djokovic will be the one who wins more of them.
How often do we have a day in which two members of the Big 4 both come in having lost their last matches against their opponents? It will be true on Saturday: Djokovic lost to Zverev in Rome last year, and Federer lost to Coric this summer in Halle.
The next question is: Will that loss have an effect on this match? I’d say it will have two effects, which could cancel each other out. If Coric builds an early lead, he should have confidence that he can close it out. As for Federer, he’ll be determined not to lose to Coric two straight times.
More important, of course, will be their forms. Coric had some good fortune on his road to the semis: In the third round, Juan Martin del Potro retired against him, and in the fourth round, he faced 76th-ranked Matthew Ebden. Granted, Federer also made a couple of fortunate escapes in his first two matches, winning 6-4 in the third set over both Daniil Medvedev and Roberto Bautista Agut. But against Kei Nishikori in the quarters, Federer showed off his old spring and aggression, as well as his new, more powerful backhand. Even when his form went off late in the second set, he found his way though against a fired-up opponent. Could we see a repeat of that scenario on Saturday?
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Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Alexander Zverev headline the ATP Rolex Shanghai Masters. Watch live coverage from five courts on Tennis Channel PLUS beginning Saturday, 10/6 at 12:00 am ET.
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