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The Shanghai Rolex Masters kicks off on October 6, bringing together the strongest field in the men’s game since the US Open. With nearly $4million in prize money up for grabs, plus precious points for those players who haven’t yet booked their place in the lucrative and prestigious end-of-season Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 in London, it should be a super-charged week of tennis which all adds up to great entertainment for the fans.
Although the Shanghai Masters is only in its fourth year on the ATP tour, it is already established as one of the prestige events in the tennis calendar. Since the tournament´s inception in 2009, it has been awarded the title of ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Tournament of the Year every subsequent year, an award voted for by the ATP players themselves. Prior to that, the 15,000 capacity Qizhong Forest Sports City Arena was the venue for the end of season ATP World Tour Finals in 2002 and from 2005-2008.
So who is likely to come away with the trophy in Shanghai? Rafael Nadal is currently in the form of his life, and justifiably regained the world no.1 spot last week at the China Open, ascending to the top spot for the first time since June 2011. The Spaniard has lost just three games since returning to action in February after an eight month knee-injury induced layoff. Now apparently pain free and playing without bandages for the first time in years, his improved serve and more aggressive tactics (brought about out of career-saving necessity by long-time coach Uncle Tony) have seen him demolish the field in ten of his thirteen tournaments this season. He will clearly be the one to watch – and to stop – in Shanghai next week.
World no.2 Novak Djokovic retained his Australian Open title back in January, and has won just two more tournaments since – in Dubai and Monte Carlo – where he inflicted one of Nadal´s three defeats. By the phenomenal standards he has set in the last three years “Djoker” will look back at this season as something of a dud, and at times he has appeared massively frustrated at his inability to pull the trigger in major finals in 2013 the way he did so efficiently in the recent past, particularly in 2011. In the final of the US Open, where he seemed to have Nadal on the ropes yet was ultimately out gutted and subsequently out fought by the Spaniard, Djokovic looked on the verge of tears following yet another defeat. Can he get back to winning ways and regain his no.1 status before the end of the year? It´s going to be a tough ask.
World no.3 Andy Murray is out for the rest of the season with back problems, no.4 David Ferrer looked out of sorts losing to Richard Gasquet in China, and no.5 Thomas Berdych was forced to retire due to injury in his semi-final with Nadal last week, and may miss the tournament altogether. The two outside danger men – if one can call the world´s 6th and 7th best players “outside” are Roger Federer and Juan Martin Del Potro respectively.
32 year old Federer is without a tournament win since his customary victory in the pre-Wimbledon warm up tournament in Halle, his only win of 2013. Never outside of the world´s top-3 for a decade, he saw his ranking slip to seventh a month ago, and yet at times during the year he has looked on the verge of a return to his glory days. Nagging back issues have hampered the great man in recent weeks, but if he can play without pain in Shanghai and hits something approaching top form he could pull off the win, especially if Rafa is finally feeling fatigued and Novak is feeling depressed.
Likewise, the hulking 6’6’’ powerhouse that is Del Potro is also long overdue a week of harnessing one of the biggest games in tennis and taking home a major trophy. The 25 year old Argentinian looked set to take over the game when he blitzed the field to win the US Open back in 2009, yet a series of injuries have seen him yo-yo in and out of the world’s top-10 since, occasionally giving fans flashes of his destructive best form. Despite patchy form he´s won twice this season (at Marseille and Washington), and reached the semis at Wimbledon. When Del Potro brings his A-game to the court he is virtually unplayable, and if he can stay injury free and hit a vein of form in Shanghai, he could be the man to beat.
Only the top-eight ranked players will make the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals where there will be a staggering $6 million up for grabs, and with Murray out and only Nadal, Djokovic and probably Ferrer qualified, there are still five places to be fought for. Jo-Wilfreed Tsonga is currently in eighth spot, but his position is a precarious one, and the Frenchman has barely played since losing in the second round at Wimbledon.
Chasing Berdych, Federer, Del Potro and Tsonga for those top-eight slots are Stanislas Wawrinka who looked sensational at times in the US Open, the mercurial Richard Gasquet and 35-year old come-back kid Tommy Haas, although Tommy may have peaked too early in the season and looks to have ran out of gas recently. Canadian danger-man and world no.11 Milos Raonic is finishing the season like a train and may have more steam left in his tank than any of those immediately around him.
It all adds up to what should be a compelling and highly entertaining week of top-quality tennis in Shanghai!