Tennis Masters Cup Kicks Off
November 10, 2008 -- The men's season-ending Tennis Masters Cup from Shanghai is somewhat of a misnomer. With the final tie in Davis Cup next week and most players scheduled to begin training for 2009 in the first part of December, it hardly seems like a time after which players will scurry off to sunny beaches for a well-deserved hiatus from the tour. Although the purse is the largest of the circuit -- $4.55 million -- without the world's #1 Rafael Nadal, who withdrew sighting knee tendonitis, some of the air has been taken out of the competition.
Four new faces made their debut at the Qi Zhong Stadium, center court of the event, over the last two days (Shanghai is 13 hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time zone). Gilles Simon was the lucky man who stepped up to the eighth and final spot after Nadal's withdrawal. Jo-Wilfred Tsonga clinched his spot after winning the Paris Masters Series two weeks ago. Andy Murray, ranked #4 in the ATP 2008 Race, comes in as a favorite of several tennis aficionados such as Tennis Magazine's senior editor Peter Bodo.
"I think you can look for a new winner this year, such as Andy Murray," Peter said in a video clip on tennis.com.
Juan Martin del Potro is the fourth new face in Shanghai. His 2008 match record rocketed the six-foot-six Argentine to the 8th spot in the ATP Race when Del Potro stunned the tennis world by winning four major premier tournaments in succession... a first for any ATP player.
Roger Federer, seeded #1 in Nadal's absence, is the four-time defending champion. If he wins the title he will join Pete Sampras and Ivan Lendl as one more elite member with five year-ending titles. Federer's first championship came in 2003. He lost in 2005 to David Nalbandian, but finished as the finalist.
Unfortunately for the Swiss maestro his first round match against Frenchman Gilles Simon didn't go as planned. The Frenchman came from a set and a break down to win 46 64 63. The unassuming Simon, who plays better from behind, now has a 2-0 record against Federer. Simon beat Roger in Toronto this year, which came two quick weeks after his 5-hour final at Wimbledon.
According to the ATP web site Roger said that he was happy to be in Shanghai and felt fine, after pulling out of the Paris Masters Series from a sore back. He did admit that the loss was a tough one. Always positive in the end though, Roger said, "This is the only tournament you can still win after losing in the first match." Federer lost his opening match in 2007.
Two groups make up the weeks draw in Shanghai -- the Red Group and the Gold Group. Most pundits have concluded that the Red Group is the toughest of the two. It includes Federer, Murray, Roddick, and Simon. Djokovic, Davydenko, Tsonga and del Potro round out the Gold Group. Each man plays all others in his group once. Then the top two players from a group will advance to the semifinals.
Andy Roddick had high hopes of beating a red-hot Andy Murray today. Although the American went down a break in the first set and lost it, he came back in the second giving the Scot a 6/1 thumping. However, it wasn't enough for a victory. Murray had nine aces to Roddick's three -- a low number for the sixth seed. Murray also succeeded in winning 67% of second serve returns, a statistic that has improved for him in recent months. Murray's foot speed had him running down shots that might have been winners against some players, but not one of the elite eight. Roddick, to his credit, did catch the Scot well behind the baseline a couple times and got off a timely drop shot that even Murray couldn't reach.
To win big matches like these, Andy Roddick has to add another dimension to his game because he won't surpass his current ranking from the backcourt. His volleys need improvement, too. Andy's hands don't have the softness and accuracy as, let's say, Federer or Tsonga.
Novak Djokovic shooed away his demons in his opening match yesterday against newcomer Juan Martin del Potro. Djokovic was determined to win because in his debut Tennis Masters Cup last year he lost all three round-robin encounters after he played 101 matches during the season and climbed to the #3 spot in the rankings. It was the second time these men had played each other, the first being in this year's U. S. Open, which the Serb also won.
"I'm pleased to have my first match," Djokovic said in his press conference. "It was important, having lost all three last year. I haven't played a lot of matches lately. It was good to be back on the court and get a rhythm."
The longest match over the first two days of competition was between Nikolay Davydenko and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who started well, taking the first set in a tiebreak. However, in the third set tiebreak the mighty Frenchman lost steam and the tiebreak at zero to a very fit Davydenko. Their match time was two hours and forty-three minutes.