Novak Djokovic will be in good company in China this weekend when he begins the defence of his Shanghai Masters title, where a heavy-hitting cast including the likes of Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, and Stan Wawrinka will be ready in waiting to seize the Serb’s Asian crown.
The likes of Jo Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro, Gilles Simon and David Ferrer, who have all either won or reached the final of the Shanghai tournament in years gone by, will also be present to battle for Djokovic’s title, not to mention a host of emerging youngsters eager to make their mark in one of the most decorated tournaments on the ATP tour with only the Paris masters left in the series before the finale in London in November.
Though the stakes could hardly be higher for the world No 1, who has assimilated a calendar year record of 56-6 – a quite superb 90%-win ratio which has brought about seven championships and two Grand Slams – his once indomitable aura of invincibility has diminished somewhat following a post-Wimbledon slump.
Djokovic lost to American outsider Sam Querrey at SW19 in the third round, fell victim to a revitalised Juan Martin del Potro in his opener at the Olympic Games, and was vanquished by Stan Wawrinka in the final Slam of the year at Flushing Meadows.
Nole’s record at the Qizhong Arena is a quite incredible one, though: he holds the record for the most singles titles since its inception in 2009, and has won the tournament on three of the last four occasions – only Roger Federer’s 2014 triumph denied the Serb a clean quadruple sweep in Shanghai.
Federer’s season has ended prematurely though, meaning Andy Murray seems the likeliest challenger to ruin Djokovic’s Asian expedition. The Scotsman has targeted overtaking his Serbian counterpart as the top-ranked player in the game, and Nole’s absence in Beijing could see him narrow the gap ahead of the Shanghai event, where he will be looking to win his third Masters title (having previously been victorious in 2010 and 2011).
The Wimbledon victor is almost 4,700 points behind Djokovic in the world rankings but knows a win in Beijing – and taking the 500 ranking points available – will move him 1,000 points closer to the 12-time Grand Slam champion heading into the Shanghai event this weekend.
Besides the efforts of an in-form Murray though, it may well be Djokovic’s nemesis from the US Open, Stan Wawrinka, who provides the sternest test for the world’s greatest in the upcoming weeks.
Wawrinka displayed his credentials on the big stage at the US Open last month, where the 31-year-old came back from a set down before fashioning three hours of outstanding tennis in which he hit 37 winners to Djokovic’s 23, and won three consecutive sets to stun his opponent – and the tennis world no-less – 6-7, 6-4, 7-5, 6-3.
Nole was quite simply unable to cope with Wawrinka despite requiring just 9 nine hours of game time to reach the final in comparison to his Swiss rival’s eighteen. Yet by the latter stages of the clash, it was Djokovic who struggled to match Wawrinka’s otherworldly levels of energy and blistering baseline game, given the circumstances.
Following the victory, Wawrinka was granted access to the newly-extended ‘Big Five’ club by his bested opponent, so it is now the Swiss’ mission to prove he’s worthy of residing amongst the elite – and what better way of doing so than by claiming his second masters of his career!