Grading the Shanghai Masters

October 19, 2011 · Print This Article

by Rob York

All but one of the Masters Series events are finished in 2011, and the Greatest Player of the Open Era is out of world’s top three for the first time in eight years. With the Asian swing of the tour over, action now returns to Europe, but first let’s take a look at what the Shanghai Masters means for …

Andy Murray: Say what you will about the Scot’s less-than-super performances in the majors, but he certainly didn’t waste the absence of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer from the Asian swing, nor Rafael Nadal’s current confidence deficit. His win in Shanghai makes three titles in a row, and pushes him up to No. 3 in the world, past Federer for the first time.

He has been clear that it’s his goal to finish the year at that ranking, and is a good bet to do so given the amount of points The Great Swiss has to defend from last fall.

Autumn has long been the domain of fast-court players with plenty left over following less-than-clutch Grand Slam performances: Michael Stich, Richard Krajicek, Marat Safin, David Nalbandian and Nikolay Davydenko are all unique as tennis players, but share that much in common.

Boris Becker was the rare habitual Slam winner who also thrived in the fall, largely as it took place in Europe (his back yard) in front of friendly crowds, and the indoor facilities were kind to his fast-paced game and somewhat erratic service toss.

As Murray continues to post big wins in the fall, the question of whether he can also succeed in the Slams lingers. If nothing else, this year’s post-US Open events have given us a look at what he might have accomplished had Federer, Djokovic and Nadal not been around.
And while it might be too late for Murray to put up Becker- (or even Safin-) like numbers, his skill set arguable exceeds that of any of the other fall-seasonal stalwarts mentioned above.
Barring something catastrophic in Paris or the World Tour Finals, Murray really ought to bring a heaping of confidence into the Australian Open, making for his best chance to win a major yet.

David Ferrer: A wise British songwriting duo once instructed listeners to “drink to the salt of the earth.” That seems appropriate in the case of Ferrer, the hardest working man on tour.

He’s No. 5 in the world and just qualified for the WTF for the third time. It’s the consensus of the experts that he’s the fittest player on tour (and maybe ever). The effort he makes to run down every ball is evident to anyone with a set of eyes or with auditory functions sufficient to hear his grunts, and this effort has netted him 11 career titles.

But we all know Slams are out of this 5’9” Spaniard’s reach, and Shanghai’s final makes him 0-for-3 in Master’s Series finals. On Sunday it didn’t matter that Murray was not playing at as high a level as he did a week earlier: He’s got all of Ferrer’s shots, and quite a bit more.

To his credit, though, Ferrer’s results have not seen any drastic fluctuations, no matter how many times he comes up just short, and he never seems perturbed at getting less attention than far less reliable competitors (Fernando Verdasco comes to mind).

And in this, he ought to be a role model for all … who actually know who he is.

Feliciano Lopez, Florian Mayer and Matthew Ebden: Why group these three together? Their results certainly were not parallel, especially as one (Lopez) made roadkill out of another (Mayer) on his way to the semis.

But all three are reminders of what the game used to be like, especially at this time of year. Sure, Lopez has far and away the most explosive serve/forehand of the three while struggling a bit more in rallies thanks to his one-handed backhand, but all three treat volleying as central to their game plans.

The stunner of the week had to be Mayer bouncing Nadal from the event, although Ebden’s narrow win over Gilles Simon was a surprise too. All three of them demonstrate how solid net play can work against guys accustomed to playing other baseliners. They may not crush groundstrokes the way Soderling or Verdasco do, but when you’re a solid volleyer you don’t necessarily have to.

However, all three have serious liabilities that make such play a rarity. Lopez is notoriously erratic, Mayer doesn’t have the power, and Ebden’s second serve is not going to hold up against returners like Murray, who dismissed him in the semis.

If somehow one could put the strengths of these three together, we might have a net-rushing player with a Slam run in him.
Until then, though, the sporadic nature of their success gives one more reason for volley-holics to watch in the fall.

Rafael Nadal: Last year the Spaniard appeared to have finally made the adjustments necessary to compete after the US Open, winning in Tokyo and making the last round of the WTF. That was following a career-best season, though, and with his struggles against Djokovic this year we’ve seen a repeat of his previous difficulties.

The listless look about Nadal is one we’ve seen at about this point in many previous seasons. Whether he bounces back from it as emphatically as in previous years remains to be seen, but if history is an indicator Nadal won’t be winning any more titles until the spring.

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2 Responses to “Grading the Shanghai Masters”

  1. Rajat Jain on October 20th, 2011 2:15 pm

    Mostly the fall events really feel worthless. Look at the trend:

    2008: Djokovic wins WTF. He had an awful ‘09.
    2009: Davydenko wins WTF. He was supposed to do great things in ‘10, possibly even win a major! And there, Federer takes a bathroom break and washed away all the davydenko hype along with it.
    2010: Federer wins WTF. Bring on Melbourne!! And there, we have Djokovic’s career-defining year.

    But I still have a feeling that 2011 is to Nadal as 2008 was to Federer. Of course, Federer still went on to win 3 more majors while still in decline, and the same may yet happen to Nadal. And history suggests us the same. All the early risers (McEnroe, Borg, Becker, Edberg, Wilander, even Courier) who tasted success in their teens were basically done by the time they were 25 (exception is Sampras but then his first major wasn’t really his breakthrough year).

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