The word around the courtsThe big news around the Qizhong tennis complex were the recent announcements made by two of the biggest names in tennis, Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic. A few weeks back, Federer pulled out of the Shanghai tournament, citing vague, nagging injuries that need rest, and Djokovic is continuing to nurse the back injury that has plagued him since his grueling US Open final victory over Rafael Nadal in the beginning of September. [pullquote]Many top pros are even discussing the possibility of forming a union of professional tennis players[/pullquote]For the last few months, there have been rumblings among the pros at press conferences and in interviews about shortening the relentless ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) tour, and the absence of four out of the top 16 players (world No. 6 Robin Soderling and No. 9 Gael Monfils will also be sitting Shanghai out) at a tournament as important as the Shanghai Masters raises concerns about the long term effects of having such a busy schedule and so short an off season. Many top pros are even discussing the possibility of forming a union of professional tennis players, which they argue would allow for better player representation in an industry they feel is often driven by economics. But even with the absence of a few heavy hitters, the Shanghai Rolex Masters is fixing to be an exciting week. Between matches on the Grandstand Court, I spent some time wandering between the practice courts, and let me tell you, these guys are swinging. The real treat of the opening weekend was the lack of crowds, and the practice courts (the Shanghai Masters practice schedule is updated every morning, and you can find it on their website or posted at the information booths throughout the grounds) were easily accessible. The practice courts are located between the Heineken stand and the Grandstand Court at the other end of the complex. It's a great way to get up close and personal with the players and to get a feel for just how hard these guys hit the ball and how fast they move on the court. Even in practice, it really is something. It was, in a word, awesome.
Who to watchMy favorite moment of the matches on Sunday was Donald Young's victory over Mikhail Zverev (6-3, 6-4) in the second round of the qualifying matches. Young, once the up and coming superstar of United States tennis, has struggled to convert his stellar junior performance into a successful career on the ATP tour (though the term 'successful' is a bit misleading; he is, by any measure, an incredibly successful young man. However, he was the No. 1 junior player in the world at the tender age of 16, and his professional career has been rocky, to say the least). But Young has had a strong 2011 and is looking better than ever. He finished in the round of 16 at the US Open, surprising a number of heavily favored contenders (including an epic five set victory over world No. 14 Stanislas Wawrinka), and just last week got to his first ATP finals in Thailand (he lost to Andy Murray in two sets). I, like many American tennis fans, will be watching Young this week with the hope that he can take this momentum to become a force for years to come. But Young has some serious competition. World No. 2 Rafael Nadal will be bringing the heat as he always does, and the Scotsman, Andy Murray, is coming off two recent tournament wins in Bangkok and Tokyo. Aging American powerhouse Andy Roddick has had an inconsistent 2011, including a shocking first round loss last week in Beijing at the China Open, but will remain a contender until the day he retires. Thomas Berdych won the China Open title last Sunday and will be looking to keep his momentum rolling here in Shanghai. And of course there is Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, David Ferrer, Mardy Fish, Nicolas Almagro, Gilles Simon... The list goes on. The moral here, ladies and gentlemen, is that if you can get down to the tournament, by all means do. The complex is a great place to spend the day, it's easy to get there, the beer is cheap, and most importantly, you will see some serious tennis.
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