Although we’ve had the four Grand Slams for this year, the tennis season is far from over. The Shanghai Masters is just around the corner and it could have a big impact on the remainder of the season. Read Mats Wilander’s preview to find out who could be the surprise package.
The tennis season seems to have flown by this season. It wasn’t that long ago we were thinking about the Australian Open and what was ahead, and already a lot of people are looking back and wondering where the time went.
There haven’t been a great deal of surprises so far this season. Roger Federer started incredibly well and looked like he could dominate, Rafael did what he does and cruised to victory at the French Open and then Novak Djokovic finally started playing as good as he is capable of an won the final two majors of the year (Wimbledon followed by the US Open).
It might be a case of “same old same old” when it comes to the Grand Slam winners, but there’s plenty of intrigue left in the remainder of 2018. The places at the ATP Tour Finals are still up for grabs and there will be plenty of guys on the tour looking to prove a point. The upcoming Shanghai Masters is the perfect place to start putting some form together to earn a spot at the season’s final event and then carry through to next year.
What makes the Shanghai Masters unique?
When trying to predict the winner of an ATP Masters 1000 event, it’s important to first address the differences between these kinds of events and the Grand Slams. The Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and US Open are obviously the highlight events for fans and players but ranking points can also mean a lot - especially come the end of the season.
The obvious major different between a tour event and Grand Slam is the fact that they are played over three sets and not five - that drop is huge. There might be more pressure on at a Grand Slam but players can actually afford to drop a set when you can play up to five, whereas if you drop one in an ATP match it’s pretty much game over.
This shortened format also means there will be some differences in the style of play. ATP Tour match is too short to play safe and players will often play more aggressively. This obviously plays to the advantage of more aggressive players, while more passive player who prefer a defensive style might struggle more compared to playing in a Grand Slam.
The churn of matches is also important in terms of the confidence and form players can carry for one game to the next. Three sets means players will struggle less with fatigue and therefore don’t need the rest days in between. This means if a player can get their game together for seven days in a row they could be coming away with a tournament win. In a Grand Slam however, that would only bring you to the business end and there’s so much more to do from that point on.
The main contenders for the Shanghai Masters
It goes without saying that the big names are always in the mix at these kinds of events. Of course, as we get towards the end of the season injury and fatigue means some of the elite players will drop out and not compete which also gives a chances to some of the guys on the fringes.
Novak Djokovic will want to be playing as much competitive tennis as possible at the moment. Winning two Grand Slams on the spin is just about as good as it gets (unless you do three, four or even more of course) but Djokovic came back down to earth with a bump at the Laver Cup where he was beaten by Kevin Anderson. It might be an exhibition event but the players certainly take the Laver Cup more seriously than most people think.
There might be more pressure on at a Grand Slam but players can actually afford to drop a set when you can play up to five, whereas if you drop one in an ATP match it’s pretty much game over.
The key for Djokovic is maintaining his good performances and doing whatever he can to take them through the 2019. He’s still at the level that he’s been at before but he’s getting very close - we’ve seem glimpses of real quality but it’s the consistency that’s missing at the moment.
Roger Federer has had a bit of a strange season and it’s hard to pinpoint why. Obviously the age factor is an easy excuse, but for someone who looked so good early on in the year to drop away there must be more to it. The motivation to perform well right until the end of the season will be there, it’s just whether his body will allow him to do it (I think he was just caught by surprise at the US Open and really got the worst of the conditions).
Alexander Zverev is one player who is always solid at ATP event but just struggles to get it right at a Grand Slam (he’s got nine career titles but a quarter-final at this year’s French Open is his best finish at a major). Some players need pressure to perform and others do better without it - the young German is definitely one example of someone who is better off without it.
Another name that will always get thrown about at this kind of level is Marin Cilic, but he’s been a real disappointment thus far. After losing out to Nishikori in the quarter-finals of the US Open, Cilic went on to lose against Sam Querry at the Davis Cup in September and then Jan-Lennard Struff at the Japan Open. The big Croatian is experienced, he’s proven he has the quality and he’s healthy - there are a few positives there but it takes a lot more than that to win an event like the Shanghai Masters.
Thinking ahead to the end of the year
While events towards the end of the season are great for maintaining fitness, building on form and confidence, they also have the all-important ranking points up for grabs. The ATP Tour Finals are looming and with 1000 ranking points going to the winner (double and four times the amount of some other tournaments) victory at the Shanghai Masters could be a massive step to earning a spot at the end of season finale.
Players like Grigor Dimitrov, Dominic Thiem, Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev are on the fringes of qualifying for the ATP Tour Finals (only the top eight make it). That means the likes of Kevin Anderson, John Isner, David Goffin and Kei Nishikori are still in with a chance of making it.