When David Nalbandian moved up to the ninth position in the ATP rankings after winning the Masters Series events in Madrid and Paris, he became the first alternate for the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai. However, after he learned from Andy Roddick and Nikolay Davydenko that they were not thinking about pulling out of the event, the Argentine decided to stay home and leave the $50,000 appearance fee for Tommy Robredo, who has taken his place. But, there are two alternate players for the Masters Cup, so 11th-ranked Andy Murray was also offered the $50k all-inclusive package trip to China. He declined. So did Tommy Haas. And James Blake. And Tomas Berdych. And the five players ranked below the Czech. So the second alternate player for the TMC is… Juan Ignacio Chela! And if you think that is crazy, if the Argentine would have passed on the offer, Ivo Karlovic would have likely taken the slot. Scary.
Now let’s focus on those in action. One of the Bryan brothers, I believe it was Mike, recently said Andy Roddick’s chances of playing in Shanghai were only about 50%. Well, it seems Roddick can put Davis Cup out of his mind for the next week because he arrived on schedule in China on Thursday. Roddick finds himself in the red group, along with Fernando Gonzalez, Nikolay Davydenko, and Roger Federer, whom he held three match points against in their round robin match last year. After Roddick failed to win a set against Federer at the US Open, in what was possibly the best performance I have ever seen from the Texan, his chances to upset the Swiss this time around are looking slimmer than ever.
Davydenko is the longshot in this group with the form he is in, so the key match will probably be between Roddick and Gonzalez for second place. Gonzalez has been playing some better tennis again recently after a mediocre post-Aussie Open season, and given the lack of matches Roddick has played after the US Open, this could go either way. I’ll take the Rod to edge through.
Semifinalists: Roger Federer, Andy Roddick Yellow Group
While the second group seems to be pretty much equally strong as the first, there are certainly more scenarios available with Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, David Ferrer and Richard Gasquet put together. Nadal has gained some confidence after reaching the final of the Paris Masters Series event, but I’m still not impressed by the way Rafa is playing. Djokovic was clearly conserving energy in Paris by the way he went down to Fabrice Santoro, and he’ll surely want to end his season on a high note. Djokovic has beaten Nadal in straight sets on hard court in their last two matches, and I’m favoring the Serb to come through in Shanghai as well.
I don’t think Gasquet will be able to take down Rafa, but Ferrer has recently done so at the US Open. Ferrer will certainly be a threat to Nadal, but coming off a solid week in Paris, I’ll stick with the No. 2 to advance.
Semifinalists: Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal
Federer – Nadal and Roddick – Djokovic. Would these be two semifinals to watch or what? Either match could go either way, and that hasn’t always been the case during the closing stages of major ATP events over the past years.
Nadal and Federer haven’t faced each other after their legendary match at Wimbledon, where the Spaniard came within touching distance of winning his first non-clay court Slam and unofficially claiming the No. 1 ranking.
Federer has again shown signs that he is no longer invincible by going down in two consecutive tournaments to Nalbandian, but Nadal has been far from dominant after Wimbledon, so a similar scenario to last year, when Federer also beat Nadal in the semis in Shanghai, is seemingly likely.
Djokovic and Roddick only faced each other once, in Montreal earlier this year. Back then it was the Serb who straight-setted Roddick en route to his memorable title run that included wins over Nadal and Federer in the final. Djokovic is more all-round than Roddick and he is fully committed to the event. The Rod will undoubtedly give it his best, but in the back of his head he is just warming up for the Davis Cup final in Portland.
Finalists: Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic
In the US Open final, Djokovic lost in three sets to Federer, but the whole match was decided on just a handful of points. What became clear in New York, and what Djokovic had already shown in Montreal, is that he can keep up with Federer during the rallies, and actually appears to be the more dominant player from the backcourt most of the time. The Djoker will be a legitimate contender at the Slams next year, but after a long breakthrough season, winning a best-of-five final over the Fed might be too much to ask.
Winner: Roger Federer
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