Shanghai Masters preview: Djokovic, Federer, Murray target title repeats

Preview of the Shanghai Masters, where Novak Djokovic is top seed and Roger Federer is defending champion

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

The Shanghai Rolex Masters may be one of the newest ATP 1000 tournaments in the calendar, but it established itself as one of the finest tennis venues in the world when hosting the Masters Cup from 2005 to 2008, and it has built on that reputation with a vengeance. Five times in its six years it has won the players’ award as Masters tournament of the year.

And if its reputation needed any more gilding, the tournament’s three previous champions are all multi-Grand-Slam-winning stars—Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray—who are also the top seeds in a full house of seeds: All 16 of the best in the world are in the draw.

The same three men top this year’s charts in titles and match-wins, too.

Three former champions

Djokovic, Shanghai champion in 2012 and 2013, as well as winner of the Masters Cup in its last Shanghai iteration in 2008, stands head and shoulders above the competition in the rankings with a 68-5 win-loss record and eight titles—the latest of them in Beijing only yesterday. He has reached the finals of his last 12 tournaments dating back to his Australian Open victory, and three of his four final losses have come to these same rivals: Federer twice and Murray once. The other? To No4 seed Stan Wawrinka.

Murray, winner in 2010 and 2011 and runner-up in 2012, is seeded No3 but ranked No2 as the tournament gets under way. He has won four titles and 61 matches for just 10 losses this year, and is appearing in his first tournament since his heroic Davis Cup efforts—winning all three rubbers—took GB to the final.

Federer, defending Shanghai champion, finalist in 2010, and winner of the Shanghai-hosted Masters Cup in 2006 and 2007, has accumulated fives titles via 53 match-wins and eight losses this year. He, too, is playing his first tournament since backing up a US Open final run with three Davis Cup rubbers.

Masters of the Masters

These three, along with Rafael Nadal—currently ranked outside the top four at No7 as he works his way back from an injury-packed conclusion to 2014—also dominate the Masters scene across the board. Over the last five years, this quartet has won 46 out of 50 Masters crowns—and they also accounted for 26 of the losing finalists, too.

And as luck would have it, these four have fallen evenly between the two halves of the draw. But what of the other key challengers?

Quartet of danger men

Most dangerous must be No4, Wawrinka: winner of the French Open over Djokovic, and one of those ‘rogue’ Masters winners, in Monte Carlo 2014. He arrives hot-foot from winning in Tokyo, his fourth title of the year, but he is the man to draw Nadal in the quarters.

Also a dangerous presence is No6 Kei Nishikori, who is still in line to qualify for the World Tour Finals for a second consecutive year. He comes fourth on the list of titles and match-wins this year—four and 51 respectively—and reached the semis in Tokyo last week. He falls in Federer’s quarter.

One more former Masters titlist looking to confirm his place in London is David Ferrer, who is returning to form and fitness after missing Wimbledon and most of the US Open Series with an elbow injury. Even so, he is well of ahead of the chasing pack at No8 in the race, has been a finalist in Shanghai before, in 2011, and arrives on the back of the Kuala Lumpur title and a semi finish in Beijing. In the latter, he was beaten by Djokovic, and that could be his fate in the quarters here, too.

Murray’s likely quarter-final opponent is next in line to qualify for London, No5 Tomas Berdych, who picked up his first title of the year in a delayed Shenzhen final a week ago. That took its toll in Beijing, where he lost in the first round, but among his tally of 49 match-wins this year, the Czech has reached three finals, including the Monte Carlo Masters.

Lurking in the shadows

It is worth mentioning, as well, two top-20 men in the top half of the draw. The only other Shanghai finalist in the field is last year’s runner-up Gilles Simon—also the Metz runner-up—while Feliciano Lopez is three-times a semi-finalist in Shanghai and runner-up in Kuala Lumpur.

A shout-out, too, for the only other Masters winner in the draw: Jo-Wilfried Tsonga beat Federer to the Toronto title last year, and could face the Swiss in the third round. The No15-ranked Frenchman has won the Metz title since reaching the quarters of the US Open, and was a semi-finalist in Shanghai in 2013.

Breaking down the halves

Djokovic-Murray half

Make no mistake: the world No1 must be favourite to win his third Shanghai title. He arrives at the top of his game but also having won 33 of his last 34 matches in China, including an unbeaten run in Beijing to claim his sixth title. He has never lost before the semis in Shanghai, claiming two titles, as well as the Masters Cup in 2008.

Only one man in his half has beaten him this year, Murray in Toronto, but before that Djokovic had eight straight wins dating back to Murray’s victory at Wimbledon in 2013. Their last three matches, though, have all gone the distance, as did their only previous meeting in Shanghai in the 2012 final: a classic that looked in Murray’s grasp until Djokovic stole the second-set tie break, 7-6(11).

Before their possible semi face-off, Djokovic faces Martin Klizan—their only previous meet went to three sets in Miami this year—then the in-form Lopez in a replay of their four-set US Open quarter-final. The No17-ranked Lopez, however, first meets the fast-improving Dominic Thiem for a fourth time in what promises to be a show-stopper. Their three matches to date have gone to the 22-year-old No18 Austrian in very tight results.

The quarters promise either Richard Gasquet or Ferrer, who have shared the honours in their recent matches—and Djokovic has dominated both of late.

Murray opens with a first match against the No47-ranked Steve Johnson, and is scheduled to meet John Isner in the third round: He has never lost to the No13 ranked American.

In the quarters, Murray is drawn to meet either Berdych or Simon—and the Frenchman has the edge over the Czech, including their last meeting at Wimbledon and last year in Shanghai. Aside from their quarter-final in Rotterdam this year, Murray has not lost to Simon in eight years, and he has beaten Berdych in both meetings this year.

Matches to catch: R1, Pospisil vs Bolelli; R2, Lopez vs Thiem; R2, Ferrer vs Tomic; R2, Mayer vs Simon; R3 Gasquet vs Ferrer;

Federer-Wawrinka half

Federer finds himself demoted to No3 in the rankings this week, courtesy of his Shanghai points coming off before the tournament. It does not affect the seedings, but looking further ahead—to the Paris Masters and beyond that to the World Tour Finals—he has some incentive to regain the second spot and thus avoid a clash with Djokovic before the latter stages.

However, with Nadal floating outside the top four, there can be other pitfalls—though in Shanghai it has been Wawrinka who draws the short straw of a possible quarter-final meet with the Spaniard. Nadal, though, has an unenviable opener against Ivo Karlovic, who has just taken the record for career-aces—and though he has yet to beat Nadal in four attempts, their matches have gone the distance. It’s worth noting that the only other man to beat Djokovic in 2015 was Karlovic in his first tournament of the year.

Nadal’s road does not get easier, with Milos Raonic a likely third-round opponent. The big Canadian won the St Petersburg title last month and won his first match against Nadal in a close tussle in Indian Wells this year. It has, though, been an inconsistent few months for Raonic since then.

The quarter-finals promise Wawrinka, who won their last two matches, but he has the not insignificant hurdle of Marin Cilic lined up for the third round. First for Cilic, though, is an intriguing first meet with young fellow Croat, Borna Coric, who upset Murray in Dubai this year.

It’s a packed quarter then, but so is the bottom segment. Federer rolled over his first opponent, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, in their only previous meeting, but then come warning bells in the shape of Tsonga, who won their last meeting in the Toronto final—and indeed three of their last six matches.

The winner is likely to face either Nishikori or Kevin Anderson, who is enjoying a career-high No10 after his best year so far. However, the Japanese star has a tough opener against the talented Nick Kyrgios, while Anderson has the oldest man in the draw, wild-card Tommy Haas, followed by either Fabio Fognini or Joao Sousa in a lively first-round clash.

In short, this one is tough to call, but with some very fine clashes promised along the way.

Matches to catch: R1, Fognini vs Sousa; R2, Nishikori vs Kyrgios; R2, Coric vs Cilic; R2, Nadal vs Karlovic; R3, Federer vs Tsonga; R3 Nadal vs Raonic

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