Number 1 ranking on the line
Wins on Sunday for Janko Tipsarevic, Du Wi and Fabio Fognini kicked off the final ATP Masters 1000 event of the 2016 season in Shanghai.
Returning to the tour is defending champion Novak Djokovic following an extended break since his US Open final defeat to Stan Wawrinka. The Serbian suffered from a knee problem during the summer hard court season and was thought to have considered skipping the Asian swing entirely. Perhaps the threat to his number 1 ranking by Andy Murray, winner in Beijing, has prompted Djokovic back to work.
The world’s top 2 players are the only previous winners playing in Shanghai this year. Will they renew their rivalry in the final, or can someone get in their way?
Djokovic will be tested early with the presence of Tokyo champion Nick Kyrgios, Beijing finalist Grigor Dimitrov and Shenzhen winner Tomas Berdych all featuring in a strong quarter.
I would expect Djokovic to find some form by reaching the quarter final, and Tomas Berdych to be his opponent when he gets there. Djokovic has to play the never boring Fognini in his first match and shouldn’t have many problems.
The next round might prove tricky for Djokovic. The winner of the match featuring giant pairing Ivo Karlovic and Vasek Pospisil will face the victor of the flashy backhand contest between Grigor Dimitrov and Richard Gasquet. Interestingly Karlovic holds a positive 2/1 H2H record over Djokovic and the world number 1 may be hoping that Dr Ivo doesn’t step in his way. Although Dimitrov’s form is good he has played a lot of tennis lately and he won’t be causing Novak many problems. Despite being runner up in Shenzhen I’m not convinced Richard Gasquet is at his best.
Berdych bookends the first quarter, and is favourite to repeat quarter final appearances of the past 2 seasons. Kyrgios provides the biggest challenge to the Czech’s path to a meeting with Djokovic, but after a win in Tokyo I am not sure we will see he will be fully charged. His first round match with Querrey could become tricky if the Australian isn’t motivated.
The rest of Berdych’s segment looks friendly with qualifiers Yuichi Sugita and Mischa Zverev, Marcel Granollers, and wild carded Zhang Ze very unlikely to make an impact.
Verdict – Djokovic to make it 26/2 in career H2H with Berdych
Nadal leads the pack in the 2nd quarter but he will have to raise his level having underperformed on hard courts lately, including a shellacking by Dimitrov in Beijing – a tournament the Spaniard typically enjoys.
Luckily for Nadal his projected route to the semis could be tougher. Marin Cilic has only one quarter final to show for his efforts in his previous 5 visits to Shanghai. 2015’s beaten finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga has major injury doubts and only Florian Mayer, playing on a Protected Ranking, and quarter finalist from last season Bernard Tomic have any sort of history here.
I believe Nadal will likely amend recent poor form by at least making the quarter final. His section looks fine featuring Viktor Troicki, Lukas Rosol, Taylor Fritz, Stephane Robert, Tomic and Roberto Bautista Agut. Fritz, Tomic and Bautista Agut might look tricky matches for Nadal on paper but the Mallorcan would be favourite to triumph against all of them.
There is room for an outsider to face Nadal in the quarter final and I think it could be Alex Zverev. The German is in great form and has not played as much tennis as some may believe having taken to the court on only 11 occasions in the past 8 weeks compared to the 15 of Cilic. Zverev has to cope with John Isner first up but the big American hasn’t played since New York and hasn’t shown good form for a long time. Then he would face Cilic, whose record here is weak.
Tsonga could face an early exit given his injury and the far from easy challenge of facing Florian Mayer who likes Shanghai, and has the rare advantage of having more tennis in his legs than his opponent.
This section is tough to call given the time of season and lack of confidence in any of the players present. Zverev versus Nadal would make for fun viewing and the youngster will try not to choke against Rafa like earlier this season.
Verdict – Tentatively siding with Nadal.
Stan Wawrinka takes to court again after back complaints led to withdrawal in Tokyo. The US Open champion gets a fair bit of stick for not bringing the goods on a week to back basis and his Shanghai record certainly speaks to that idea. Whilst a couple of quarter final appearances are not to be sniffed at, they don’t represent the potential of the Swiss player. The other seed in this quarter is Milos Raonic, who withdrew last week in Beijing and hasn’t shown much to get excited about since Wimbledon.
The 3rd quarter looks far from strong and it feels hard to build a strong case for anybody. Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, Paolo Lorenzi, Guido Pella, Di Wu and Federico Delbonis all lack the ability to challenge. Jack Sock can rarely be trusted. Fading Spaniards Feliciano Lopez and David Ferrer, and Frenchman Gilles Simon look consistently less likely to feature with the top of the men’s game. Pablo Carreno Busta and Kyle Edmund are fastly improving but it doesn’t feel that either will breakthrough to the latter stages of a big tournament like Shanghai.
Wawrinka could lose to anyone if not in the mood but he will probably make the quarter final. Raonic is not secure but again, who stands in his way?
Verdict – Raonic to make the semi final
Andy Murray is breathing down the neck of Novak Djokovic and it feels like the Scot will ascend to the World Number 1 ranking before too long especially given recent comments by Novak Djokovic indicating the start of a slowing down process.
Murray has played the second most tennis of any player in the drawer over the past 8 weeks having competed in 18 matches. Whilst the Wimbledon champion will surely be vulnerable to fatigue before long it will take a good player to topple him.
Early rounds shouldn’t be too tricky as none of Martin Klizan, Steve Johnson, Nicolas Almagro or Mikhail Youzhny will do the business. Pouille is the other seed in Murray’s section but I don’t think he will flourish against the Scot, and he might have a scrap on his hands versus Verdasco in the first round.
The top of the draw looks set to feature a tasty encounter between Gael Monfils and the well rested Juan Martin del Potro. Of course David Goffin is the seed in this section but his 4 busy weeks since the US Open will surely be too much and Del Potro will punish him in the R64.
Standing in the way of a Del Potro and Monfils R16 match is Kevin Anderson and Joao Sousa but neither inspire confidence in turning the tide here.
2013 finalist Del Potro defeated Murray in the Davis Cup and he will look forward to beating the tired Scot again.
Verdict – Del Potro to continue comeback
This looks like an open tournament with Djokovic the probable favourite but concerns over his fitness exist, combined with new doubts over his week to week interest. At 2.34 the likely winner is too short.
Murray has played too much tennis recently and is worth siding with a player that can take advantage. The 34 with Betfair Sportsbook on a Del Potro win looks worth a play, as does the 26 on Raonic.
In the other half of the draw 81 at Paddypower on Zverev to win may give some mileage.