The 2012 Shanghai Rolex Masters came to a close Sunday, with Novak Djokovic besting two-time defending champion Andy Murray in a thrilling three-set championship match.
There are plenty of facts to rattle off about last night's showdown: Djokovic fought off five match points in the second set; it was the longest three-set final of 2012; it marked the first time Murray lost a match here at the Shanghai Rolex Masters; the second set tiebreak was over 20 minutes long. But none of that really tells the story, or at least my story, about how the match unfolded over the better part of four hours yesterday evening, and what it was like to actually be there, drinking warm Heineken, eating hot dogs and cheering while I witnessed two of the best tennis players in the world at war before me.
First, the weather: Shanghai has been downright sunny and pleasant for what seems to be an ominously long period of time. Though Saturday night's semifinal between Roger Federer and Andy Murray was briefly interrupted by light rain (I finally witnessed the menacingly-huge and jagged roof-petals of Qizhong closing, an undertaking that turns out to be boring as hell and seems to take an eternity, though it's only about 15 minutes), the tournament was blessed with incredibly sunny skies throughout the week, and Sunday was no different. 'Twas a perfect day for tennis. More after the jump.>>>>
I began the day on Team Murray. I've never been a particularly loyal fan to any individual, save my unshakable belief that Roger Federer is simply the most beautiful tennis player that has ever graced this earth, so I most often find myself rooting for whomever fits into the most interesting narrative at any given time. This year, Murray—long relegated to the second-tier of top-tier tennis, always one step behind Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, somehow the fourth best player in the world while still being regarded as a kind of loser—has been playing spectacularly, departing London with Olympic gold and snatching his first Grand Slam title at the 2012 US Open. 2011 was Djokovic's year, and saw him practically staggering under the weight of his accolades, and it seemed right that Murray would continue his 2012 run with a third consecutive title in Shanghai.
But in keeping with my shifting allegiances, and my wish for a tremendous match regardless of the outcome, I found myself joining the ranks of Team Djokovic midway through the second set. By that point, he'd been broken five times, had already smashed one racket, and had done his fair share of under-his-breath baseline muttering. He looked on the verge of defeat. But as he saved match point after match point, I, along with about 10,000 others, felt the winds of opinion blowing in his favor. You know when they say "the crowd roared its approval?" Well, that's what happened. A whole bunch of times, each eruption more violently jubilant than the last. It was truly thrilling.
And I just couldn't make it back to Team Murray. I'd invested too much in Djokovic's comeback. As he pulled ahead in the third set, I tried to get myself back on the Murray train; after all, what I wanted most was an epic match, a battle for the ages. But I couldn't do it. Djokovic had won me over, and would soon steamroll his way to victory.
The occasion of Djokovic's triumph was celebrated with champagne, scantily-clad ladies holding shiny trophies, and gold glitter-cannons (seriously, glitter-cannons). I've always thought that whatever horrible pain these athletes endure during competition, the awkward handshaking and cheese-grinning with sponsor CEO's must be the most difficult undertaking of all. After four hours of emotionally and mentally exhausting world-class tennis, how could anyone ever be excited to shake hands with the Vice President of Union Pay while he hands you a plate you'll never even get to eat off of?
So the 2012 Shanghai Rolex Masters were, for the third year running, a grand success, both for the casual participant and the rabid fanboy. What is so wonderfully clear to both types of observers, though, is just how magnificent these athletes are. The level of play is simply astounding, and watching it in person is an experience that cannot be matched in a digital reproduction, no matter how high the resolution and Brobdingnagian the TV. Chinese fans are lucky to have the Shanghai Rolex Masters here, a world-class event, in world-class facilities, with world-class talent. Here's to 2013!