The tennis season may be winding down – it will officially culminate at the World Masters Finals in November – but there is still plenty to play for; not least the $7 million prize kitty on offer at the Shanghai Masters, which starts today.
There are numerous ranking points still on offer too in order to qualify for the those lucrative ATP World Tour Finals places, and whilst the newly labelled ‘big four’ of Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka have already booked their places at the O2 in London, there are still four spots up for grabs.
The Shanghai Masters is played on a hard court, so is a tournament that is suited to some players more than others. It comes hot on the heels of two other ATP Tour events held in Japan and China respectively last week; where Djokovic overcame Rafa Nadal to claim the Beijing Open, and Wawrinka defeated Frenchman Benoit Paire to lift the Tokyo Open trophy. Both will be hot contenders here.
Roger Federer is the reigning champion – he defeated Gilles Simon 7-6, 7-6 in a high class final last year, although the Swiss ace did not participate in either tour event on Asian soil last week. He may, or may not, find it tough to adjust to the unique conditions and humidity as a consequence.
Andy Murray will also face that hurdle after deciding to stay at home in Scotland for an extra week, but his record in Shanghai – three finals in the last five years, winning two – is favourable. His draw also looks advantageous.
This is a tournament where shock results are possible – only four seeded players made it to the quarter finals last year, so punters will need to avoid those potential banana skins when picking their selections.
Whether it is players taking their eye off the ball and their foot off the gas as the season draws to a close, or the unique conditions in Shanghai, that are to blame for such surprises is anybody’s guess, but one player who won’t be lacking in motivation is Djokovic. The world number one is a relentless winning machine that simply hates losing – hence his brilliant record in the ‘lesser’ tournaments as well as the Grand Slams.
He has a tough old route through to the final here however, with plenty of dangerous opponents standing in his way. Feliciano Lopez is likely to await in the last 16, before a meeting with either David Ferrer (who faces the tricky Bernard Tomic in the round of 16) or Richard Gasquet (who faces the huge serving Gilles Muller in his opener) in the quarters. Both of those players are chasing ATP World Finals places, so will be bang up for it.
As if that wasn’t enough, the Serb then faces a possible semi-final clash with Murray. He may have won the Beijing Open on Sunday but his record in Shanghai isn’t great by his standards – only making two finals in the last six years, and so his price of 4/5 simply isn’t tempting enough.
And what about Murray? Well, he’ll have a lot to do before he can think of a meeting with Djokovic. The talented Steve Johnson awaits in the last 32, whilst the fastest server in the world John Isner could prove a handful in the last 16. A quarter final with last year’s finalist Simon or the number five seed Tomas Berdych offers plenty of potential for defeat as well. Again, let’s avoid the Scot.
The Big Swiss Cheeses
Instead, it’s in the bottom half of the draw where the value is to be found. The reigning champ Federer should cruise through to the last four – with potential clashes with Querrey, Tsonga and Nishikori on the cards – and there he is likely to meet his Swiss compatriot Stan Wawrinka.
The fourth seed only dropped one set on his way to winning the Tokyo Open last week, and he should easily see off either Victor Troicki or Pablo Cuevas in the last 32 here. Marin Cilic is tricky but beatable in the last 16, and then a potential quarter final clash with Rafa Nadal, who showed glimpses of form in his run to the Beijing final, could be on the horizon.
But if all goes to plan then the two Swiss big cheeses should meet in the last four, and at a pre-tournament 16/1 it’s Wawrinka who represents the best each way value.