By Jane Voigt, Special for WorldTennisMagazine.com
After New York and all the hubbub of its U.S. Open extravaganza, fans’ eyes drift east … far east. Although they know tennis is a global sport, the tournaments staged in Asia probably are considered more as stepping stones that lead to destinations such as London and Istanbul — the beacons on the horizon.
This week court lights focus on the Shanghai Rolex Masters, one of the last two Master series events of the year for the ATP Tour. The big boys are there minus Rafael Nadal. And Andy Murray will attempt to three-peat his title, although he has looked a bit dogged of late. Cheer up Andy, you’ve made it to the big-boy section alongside Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.
Before their arrival in the exotic shimmering city of Shanghai players spun their best tennis throughout the region: Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, and Tokyo. The WTA Tour players touched down in Guangzhou — part of The People’s Republic of China, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, and this week in Osaka.
Keeping track of the results in these far-flung locales is awkward for many. Matches begin in the wee hours of the morning and finish up when alarm clocks buzz, beckoning millions to rise and prep for work. With electronic devices secured in their palms, scores are instantaneous. Why then watch the taped matches?
However for populations that reside in Asia, the fall tour swings provide live-action tennis that only has been a faint whisper throughout much of the year. In direct opposition these were the fans who calculated time zones fluctuations. ‘Let’s see … if it’s 8 here then what time is it in New York City?’
What goes around the planet, comes around the planet. We’re all in the same boat. And luckily our game of choice — tennis — is flexible and travels well across boarders, time zones, and seasons.
If the U. S. Open is the last big bang for players, their final hurrah at slam recognition for the year, then these tournaments in Thailand, Japan, China and Malaysia pressure those in the top 10 to 12 calendar-year rankings to push through for berths in their year-ending championships.
The ATP Rankings Race to London propels the top eight men to the Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals, November 5-12, at London’s O2 arena. Only four players have qualified: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, and Rafael Nadal. David Ferrer nips at their heels as well as Tomas Berdych, Juan Martin del Potro, and Jo-Wilfred Tsonga.
Eight women champions have locked up The WTA Race to Istanbul, which is scheduled to launch October 23-28. Here are the best-performing tennis athletes getting ready to pack their court bags: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova, Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Sara Errani (singles and doubles), and Li Na.
Not to get too far ahead, but the matches at these two round-robin tournaments are nothing less than slam-level competitions. Definitely must-see TV, smart phone, or tablet viewing … take your choice.
To note, nothing has been sweeter this fall for Asian players than to have won won titles at home.
In Bangkok Yen-Hsun Lu of Taiwan and Danai Udomchoke of Thailand won their first-ever ATP doubles titles together. Kei Nishikori became the first Japanese man to win in Tokyo since the tournaments inception 40 years ago. Ken Rosewall, the tournament’s first winner, was on hand to present the trophy to a beaming Nishikori.
At the GRC Bank Guangzhou International Women’s Open, Hsieh Wei, of Taipei, won the singles title after multiple setbacks throughout the final against teen phenom Laura Robson.
Tomorrow inside the stunning stadium in Shanghai, Federer and Djokovic take to court for their first matches. Federer will give Yen-Hsun Lu a chance to shine again. This time in Shanghai. The No. 2 seed, Djokovic, will face Grigor Dimitrov commonly called ‘Little Federer.’
Both Federer and Djokovic have said they want to end the year as number one. Obviously, there is but one number one. Djokovic road a wave into Shanghai, having won The China Open. There’s no undercurrent to his tennis as we had witnessed in 2011 after his extraordinary year.
On the other hand, Federer does not usually play this event. He chooses instead to gear up for The Paris Masters in Basil, his home town. On top of the quick choice to travel from Dubai, Federer has been distracted by a recent death threat. In an interview on October 7 he characterized it as, “something just very small on a website. That it makes that big news is a big surprising to me.”
Federer said he feels safe in Shanghai. He would also like to change the current of conversation to coincide with his tennis performance rather than the malicious rants of an intruder. “I’m happy I arrived here in time to get used to the conditions, get used to maybe the jet-lag, potentially a small one. Obviously I want to make sure I practice enough so I’m playing well.”
Federer hasn’t played since Davis Cup in Switzerland. This week the No. 1 seed could break the tie, 21 each, held with Nadal for most Master 1000 titles. He could also capture his 4th Masters Shield of the year. He could also stumble.
And that’s something tennis fans, no matter where they live or how cumbersome following scores may be, know deep in their hearts. Someone will walk off court with a smile on their face while their opponent will contemplate errors and the what-ifs until they don’t anymore and board a jet for their next destination.
Jane Voigt lives, breathes and writes tennis. She wrote about John Isner’s ground-breaking wildcard run at the formerly named Legg Mason Tennis Classic in 2007 for Tennis.com. She has written tennis commentary for the late, great Tennis Week print publication and online version. Hundreds of articles from Jane have been seen on TennisServer.com, too. She now maintains her own website at DownTheTee.com, and has traveled throughout the U. S. and Canada to cover tournaments. Ask her to play tennis, and she’ll prefer singles to doubles.