The Shanghai Masters is the 'youngest' of the nine ATP Masters 1000 tournaments on the tennis calendar, having come into existence only in 2009. And in the early years, it actually felt like the youngest too; sandwiched between the US Open and the indoor swing, its significance seemed a little lacking. It was in no man's land, neither here nor there.
All of that has changed in the last few years. With three members of the Big 4 – Andy Murray (3 titles), Novak Djokovic (3 titles) and Roger Federer (2 titles) – establishing a stranglehold over the tournament, the Shanghai Masters has started feeling like the preserve of the elite. You've got to be pretty darned good if you want to triumph here.
Now acting as an important bridge between outdoor and indoor tennis, the 2018 edition is missing two big names – Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray are both sitting out. But the tournament is still expected to produce fireworks, as it marks the return of Federer and Djokovic to competitive tennis after their weekend of fun at the Laver Cup.
The 56-man draw this year is incredibly deep and brimming with quality all the way through. Here is a look at what each quarter is likely to throw up:
First quarter: Plenty of defending to be done by the defending champion
Federer will look to defend the title he won last year and he will also have to do a lot of physical defending on the court, against some very powerful players. His first opponent is expected to be Daniil Medvedev, who has played some fine tennis this week to reach the Tokyo final. If the Swiss gets past that hurdle, he will face one of Milos Raonic, Roberto Bautista Agut or Andrey Rublev – all dangerous players capable of hitting Federer off the court.
At the other end of the quarter is the other Tokyo finalist, Kei Nishikori, who will open against the winner of Zhe Li and Yibing Wu. Wu is a talented youngster who has been earmarked for great things in the future. So it will be interesting to see how he matches up to Nishikori if he does win his first rounder.
In the third round, Nishikori could face Diego Schwartzman, Sam Querrey or Robin Haase. It's easy to imagine any one of them taking advantage of the fatigue that Nishikori would inevitably experience after playing so many matches on the trot.
Quarter-final prediction: Roger Federer def. Diego Schwartzman
Dark horse: Andrey Rublev
First-round match to watch: Diego Schwartzman vs Sam Querrey
Second quarter: The hard-hitting coterie
It may just be the luck of the draw, but it almost seems unfair that so many of the biggest hitters in the world are huddled together in this tiny corner. Juan Martin del Potro, Nick Kyrgios, Stan Wawrinka, Jack Sock and Dominic Thiem all find themselves here, which means the courts in Shanghai will shake a fair bit when this quarter's matches unfold.
Del Potro is, of course, the top dog, but he may have his hands full if he faces Richard Gasquet in the second round. The Frenchman played some inspired, almost Federer-esque tennis to reach the Tokyo semi-final and could be primed for another mid-career resurgence.
Wawrinka, meanwhile, has a tough opener against Borna Coric and if he wins that, he may get to face Nick Kyrgios in the second round. Kyrgios, as always, comes in as an unpredictable commodity; he could either flame out early or make a run to the final.
Thiem has a relatively simpler path. He will face either Matthew Ebden or Frances Tiafoe in the second round and if he wins that, potentially Damir Dzumhur or Jack Sock in the third. Sock has been struggling for a while, so it might be a stretch to expect him to win two straight matches. Dzumhur is a far safer pick to reach the third round.
Quarter-final prediction: Juan Martin del Potro def. Dominic Thiem
Dark horse: Nick Kyrgios
First-round match to watch: Stan Wawrinka vs Borna Coric
Third quarter: The tumbling top-tenners try to regroup
Marin Cilic and Alexander Zverev are firmly entrenched in the top 10 of the ATP rankings, but you wouldn't know that from the way they've been playing lately. The two highest seeds here, both Cilic and Zverev have failed to do much of note since the end of the clay court season and Shanghai is a good opportunity to change that.
There would be little time to settle into the tournament for either man though. Zverev could face Denis Shapovalov as early as the second round and fast-rising teenager Alex De Minaur after that. Cilic on his part might have to withstand the fiery forehand of Nicolas Jarry in his first match, and another fiery forehand – of Kyle Edmund's – after that.
Also here is Pablo Carreno Busta, who is somehow still seeded as high as No 15. Carreno Busta seems to be a bit of a forgotten man lately. Was it just one year ago that he had reached the US Open semi-final? A second-round match-up against De Minaur would be a good test of where the Spaniard's game is right now.
Quarter-final prediction: Marin Cilic def. Alexander Zverev
Dark horse: Nicolas Jarry
First-round match to watch: Denis Shapovalov vs Nikoloz Basilashvili
Fourth Quarter: The king returns to his throne?
There was a time when Novak Djokovic absolutely ruled over the courts in China. He has a (still) undefeated 29-0 record at the China Open in Beijing, and at one point – from 2012 to 2015 – he had also won three Shanghai titles in four years (only missing out in 2014).
Now that he's won the last two Grand Slams, it might be time for the Serb to re-establish his reign over the tennis world. And what better way to do that than by reclaiming the seat from where he extended his dominion the last time around?
He will start against either Jeremy Chardy or Maximilian Marterer, but things could get trickier after that. His conquerers from the year's first two Slams – Hyeon Chung and Marco Cecchinato – could face off in the second round, with the winner getting to play Djokovic in the third. Will Djokovic have revenge on his mind? It would make for a fascinating spectacle if he does.
Kevin Anderson is the marquee name at the other end of this quarter and the South African has become consistent enough in recent times to be considered a safe bet to live up to his seeding. Karen Khachanov could be waiting in the third round, but the Russian might have a tough time dealing with Steve Johnson in the first round and the winner of the match between Gael Monfils and Stefanos Tsitsipas in the second.
Speaking of Tsitsipas, has he recovered sufficiently from the post-Canada slump that he had found himself mired in? His performance against Monfils will be a good indicator of whether he has.
Quarter-final prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Kevin Anderson
Dark horse: Hyeon Chung
First-round match to watch: Stefanos Tsitsipas vs Gael Monfils
Semi-final predictions: Roger Federer def. Juan Martin del Potro, Novak Djokovic def. Marin Cilic
Final prediction: Novak Djokovic def. Roger Federer
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Updated Date: Oct 06, 2018 22:00 PM