Can we say that the Asian swing has finally kicked into high gear for the men? As of today, it’s almost there. This week the ATP brings us both the Japan Open and the China Open, where Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, and new U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic make their fall-season debuts. Five of the Top 10 men are in Beijing; four others are in Tokyo. The only missing name is Roger Federer’s: He’ll make his return next week, at the Masters event in Shanghai. For now, here’s a look ahead at the draws in Beijing and Tokyo.
It feels a little like tennis season again.
$2,500,470; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
Above I list the prize money as $2,500,470; but in the case of the China Open, it’s the tournament's Total Financial Commitment, which includes appearance fees, that’s the eye-popper and the number that matters: $3,755,065. Whatever happens to Djokovic and Nadal in Beijing, it's safe to say the trip will have been worth it.
But Rafa and Nole aren’t the only attention-grabbing names in this jam-packed 32-player draw: Andy Murray, Grigor Dimitrov, Tomas Berdych, John Isner, Ernests Gulbis, and Cilic are here as well—that’s a strong cast of seeds. Among other things, we may get to see Cilic's first post-Open showdown with a member of the Big 4: He's scheduled to play Murray in the quarters. Muzzard is 10-2 against Marin, but Cilic beat him in their last match, in Rotterdam in February. That now looks like a sign of things to come.
Still, at the moment the questions all surround the Big 2. This will be Nadal’s first tournament since Wimbledon. He says his right wrist, which he hurt while training in late July, is mostly healed—he can still feel a twinge or two, but he was well enough to play (and lose) a doubles match last night. Expections are obviously not high for Rafa this week, but after the Big 4 debacle at Flushing Meadows, it will be good to have him back. He starts against Richard Gasquet on Tuesday; this would seem to be a golden opportunity for the Frenchman to record his first win over the Spaniard since they were 13-year-old Little Aces (he's 0-12 against Rafa as a pro). But I still wouldn’t bet on Reeshard.
As for Djokovic, his troubles remain more mysterious, and possibly more transient. He slumped his way through North America this summer, seemingly not quite ready for prime time after winning Wimbledon and getting married. But if Nole is going to put his summer hangover behind him, Beijing is the place to make it happen; he has won the event the last four times he’s played it. Last year he beat Nadal in the final and began a scorching undefeated run that lasted the rest of the season.
But a five-peat won't be easy. Djokovic opens against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and could play Vasek Pospisil and Grigor Dimitrov before potentially seeing Murray or Cilic in the semifinals. It’s that kind of draw.
Speaking of Dimitrov, he’s one of six players in Beijing, besides the Big 2, who have a chance to reach the ATP finals in London. Nadal and Djokovic have both qualified; Cilic and Tomas Berdych are No. 5 and No. 8, respectively; Murray is 105 points behind Berdych, and Dimitrov is 175 points back; farther behind, but not quite out of the running, are Ernests Gulbis at No. 13 and Fabio Fognini at No. 15.
A year-end championship featuring Gulbis and Fognini? Would that even be allowed? If they don’t make it, we’ll still get to see them in Beijing; they face off in the opening round. Are there any chair umpires ready to volunteer for that one?
Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships
$1,228,825; 500 ranking points
Draw is here
The Japan Open comes off as slightly second-tier compared to its fellow ATP event on the mainland. But it’s a quality second tier; four players, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori, David Ferrer, and Milos Raonic, are in the running for London.
The top seed is Wawrinka, who is a comfortable No. 4 in the race; he’ll open against Japanese wild card Tatsuma Ito.
The third seed is Raonic, who is making his first tour appearance since the U.S. Open. He begins against Bernard Tomic, loser in his opener in Kuala Lumpur last week.
The fourth seed is Nishikori. The home-country hero, a winner in Kuala Lumpur, starts against Ivan Dodig.
Second seed is—I mean was—Ferrer. He has already lost to fellow Spaniard Marcel Granollers. Ferru is on the bubble for London at the moment. Not much separates him from the current No. 9 Raonic, and No. 10, Murray.
First-round match to watch: Raonic vs. Tomic
Also here: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
Already through: Jack Sock, over Alexandr Dolgopolov, 6-4, 6-1.
The upset bug appears to be alive and well in Japan. We’ll see who else it bites this week.