With four majors, nine Masters 1000 events, and dozens of smaller tournaments scattered around the globe, it’s a challenge to stand out on the crowded tennis calendar. But for one glorious week in October, Shanghai fans, the city of Shanghai itself and tournament organizers all play a part in creating a tennis spectacular known as the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
“I think Shanghai is one of the best Masters that we have,” world No. 4 Alexander Zverev playing here for the second time in his young career enthused.
The only Masters 1000 tournament outside of North America and Europe, the city of Shanghai plays a significant role in making the Shanghai Rolex Masters experience a distinctive one, a tall order for players who spend most of the year jetting from one glamorous city to the next. This week, players have been spotted playing mini-tennis on a rooftop on The Bund, going on rides at Shanghai Disneyland and even taking the metro around town.
“I like The Bund,” Roger Federer said. “Never looks the same, in a way, you know, the water, the boats moving around. I like it, the lights at night. During the day it’s different again. In the past, I went to Art District or Xintiandi, and different places, so I have always tried every year to do something.”
The Chinese fans who come from all around the country to support their favorite players also make the experience special. 2013 finalist Juan Martin del Potro said the enthusiastic fans have added to his motivation to do well in Shanghai. “I am enjoying to play in front of the Chinese fans… I think we make a good team, so I will try to keep staying few more days in China.”
Rafael Nadal and Federer in particular enjoy tremendous crowd support.
“Here in this part of the world is good to be playing during some parts of the year, because the fans are very passionate and of course is special play in front of them,” Nadal said of his fans, many with Spanish flags painted on their faces.
Federer jokingly said there were always “hundreds of thousands” of fans waiting for him everywhere he went, even at 1 am. “But, no, I enjoy the attention here, because I’m never here, so it’s 10 days of the year that it’s maybe a bit extreme,” he added. “It’s actually quite enjoyable to see so much support and so much care by them, because they are very caring and very respectful. If I don’t have time to sign autographs or take pictures, they understand. If I find it dangerous for them, I won’t do it, they get it. They are very understanding, and it’s nice to have those kind of fans.”
This week, Federer fans have been out in force, turning Qi Zhong Stadium into a sea of RF caps, “PeRFect” signs and giant Swiss flags.
“I thought the flag was awesome,” he said. “It was great. It was big. You can tell that there was a lot of effort put into it. Also tried to sit all together. I think that’s a lot of fun for me, as a player, to see that.”
As much as Federer loves Shanghai, calling it his “second home away from home”, don’t expect the Swiss superstar to buy a house here anytime soon saying he has “no plans yet, and I probably won’t” because he’s “not here enough”.
In addition to the city and the fans, the tournament itself has come a long way from its humble beginnings to becoming Asia’s largest and most significent men’s tennis tournament.
“Our story is we went into a 3,000-seat stadium court in 1998,” Tournament Director Michael Luevano recalls. “At the time, there were no more than 10,000 people who played tennis in Shanghai. By the time the tournament started hosting the year-end finals in 2005, a survey showed that number had increased to 540,000 people.
“Our first facility was nice, but when we won the 2005 Tennis Masters Cup, we had to build a facility after getting the event.”
Today, that facility is now the Shanghai Qizhong Forest Sports City Tennis Center, with its showpiece being a 14,000-seat center court with an eight-piece retractable roof signifying the symbol of Shanghai, the magnolia flower.
Despite being one of the players’ favorite stops on the tour, the tournament continues to innovate, including inviting a Michelin-starred chef to helm the kitchens at the players’ restaurant, known as one of the most exclusive anywhere because it’s only open for one week a year and takes no reservations.
Federer, who missed the 2016 edition due to injury, remarked on the improvements. He said: “Two years later, the tournament is a bit better. It could be subtle changes. It could be within the organization. Things, you know, are working even smoother.”