For some, there may be a feeling that the tennis season is all but over after the US Open, the final grand slam of the year, concluded last month with Novak Djokovic claiming victory.
But while there may be no more major titles to win this year, there is still plenty to play for as the tour heads to Asia where lots of points are up for grabs, which is of particular importance to those looking to secure a place at the ATP World Tour Finals in London next month.
The Asian swing is a period of the season which can often throw up a few shock results, as well as withdrawals and retirements due to injury and fatigue.
A glance at the China Open’s entry list this week highlights this. The top three seeds – Djokovic, Robin Soderling and Gael Monfils – all pulled out beforehand which would have been a hammer blow to those who run the tournament in Beijing.
Djokovic’s back injury, which he sustained during Serbia’s Davis Cup semi-final loss to Argentina last month, looks set to also rule him out of next week’s Shanghai Masters, a tournament in which Roger Federer has already withdrawn to “rest and recuperate”.
Juan Martin Del Potro has also withdrawn from Shanghai as part of his plan to be in top shape for Argentina’s Davis Cup Final against Spain in December. He will play three consecutive weeks, starting later this month, in Vienna, Valencia and Paris, and with it, has significantly diminished his chances of qualifying for London next month.
The absence of many top players inevitably demeans the importance of the Asian swing to some extent, but it offers a great chance for others to pick up some ranking points, although they will still have Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray to contend with, both of whom have made the lengthy trip from Europe and look in fine shape, as you would expect.
Nadal opened up his Asian campaign at the Japan Open today and the top seed eased past home hope Go Soeda in a 6-3 6-2 win.
The Spaniard arrived in Tokyo from Taiwan where he had taken part in an exhibition match last week with David Ferrer, something which understandably further raised eyebrows amongst those who are already unhappy with the players’ complaints about the schedule being too long.
That is a discussion for another week though. In fact, the players’ meeting on the subject, which was due to take place in Shanghai next week, is now in doubt due to the absence of Federer and the likely withdrawal of Djokovic.
Murray has opted to play three consecutive weeks of tournaments in Asia this year – Bangkok, Tokyo and Shanghai. A decision which seemed rather strange at first, but made perfect sense when he explained that he was playing Bangkok in order to help get over the jet lag a bit sooner, having struggled in previous years.
It was a perfect start for Murray in Thailand last week as he won his 19th ATP Tour singles title in fine fashion. The Scot was in great form all week and impressed with his high first serve percentage, aggressive intent from the baseline and consistent application.
I heard someone unfairly and misguidedly describe the Thailand Open, an ATP 250 event, as a “diddy tournament”. It is true that it may not rank high on Murray’s list of achievements at the end of his career, but it will have provided him with a sense of satisfaction and, crucially, confidence to take into further tournaments.
It’s a busy period for Murray who is now in Tokyo, not just for singles, but also for doubles with elder brother Jamie. The pair got off to a fine start, winning their first round match against Pablo Andujar and Milos Raonic, and will fancy their chances against the local wild card pairing of Tatsuma Ito and Kei Nishikori in the quarter-finals.
Andy will be desperate to help out Jamie who has a large number of ranking points to defend between now and the end of the season. The fact the Japan Open is an ATP 500 event means that it is a great opportunity to rack up some of these crucial points.
But while Andy will hope to do his brother a favour, his main focus will be the singles in which he gets his campaign underway tomorrow in a testing first round match against Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, last week’s runner-up in Kuala Lumpur, who has a 3-1 head-to-head record over the Scot.
As the second seed, Murray is the clear favourite though and will be hoping for another good week, perhaps another title win, to help him achieve his goal of finishing the year as the world No.3 ahead of Federer.
And with the Swiss not due in action again until the ATP 500 event in his hometown of Basel at the end of the month, it’s a fair bet that Murray will do just that, although Federer, being the competitive great that he is, will no doubt have other ideas. Who said the tennis season was over?