by Sandra Harwitt
Defending champion Roger Federer will have his work cut out for him if he’s to retain his prestigious Rolex Shanghai Masters crown for another year.
The top-seeded Federer, a two-time champion here at the popular Shanghai tournament, has some heavy-hitters in his half of the draw, including third-seeded Juan Martin del Potro, of Argentina. One of the hottest players on tour this season and the recent US Open finalist, Del Potro looms as a potential semifinal opponent for Federer.
Other possible Federer semifinal competitors could be sixth-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria or 13th-seeded Borna Coric of Croatia. Thiem will have a different type of challenge in his second-round encounter as he’s never played against either Frances Tiafoe of the United States or Matthew Ebden of Australia.
“It’s always interesting to play somebody new,” Thiem said. “The draws in an ATP 1000 event always have so many amazing matches. I’ve had many practices with both of them, but it’s a different feel to have a first-time match.”
Coric could encounter a danger-zone in the first-round where he plays wildcard recipient Stan Wawrinka, a three-time Grand Slam champion. Wawrinka is more than capable of presenting as a tough ask now that the Swiss native appears to be back in playing form after right knee surgery last year.
The always talented, but often unpredictable Australian Nick Kyrgios, who takes on a qualifier in the first-round, could be waiting for either Coric or Wawrinka in the second-round.
It won’t necessarily be smooth sailing to the final four for Federer, who has some talented players lurking in the wings prior to his reaching the semifinals. There could be 14th-seeded Milos Raonic of Canada, returning to top form after being frequently sidelined with injuries, as a third-round encounter.
As far as the quarterfinals for the Swiss Master, either ninth-seeded Diego Schwartzman of Argentina or eighth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan could present as a possible match up.
Likely to be dubbed the “tall-and-short of it” encounter, the 1.70m (5’7”) Schwartzman will play one of the more intriguing first-round encounters of the week against the 1.98m (6’6”) Sam Querrey of the United States.
Another first-round match in the top-half that will deliver significant crowd appeal is the all-China outing between wildcards Wu Yibing and Li Zhe.
Without a doubt, the bottom-half of the draw is also guaranteed to produce exciting tennis with a host of star-studded names. The most notable marquee player in this half of the draw is second-seeded Novak Djokovic, a three-time Shanghai champion, and always a crowd favorite here.
If the draw stays to form, Djokovic is likely to meet seventh-seeded Kevin Anderson of South Africa in the quarterfinals. The two faced off in this year’s Wimbledon final with Djokovic winning his 13th Grand Slam title by securing victory.
The Serbian, who also claimed his third US Open trophy last month, could run into some determined competition in the semifinals. Possible candidates would be fifth-seeded Marin Cilic, a former US Open champion and a finalist at this year’s Australian Open.
The Zverev brothers – fourth-seeded Alexander and unseeded Misha – are in the same quarter of the draw and could possibly meet in the quarterfinals. That, however, would likely require Mischa bypassing Cilic in the second-round if the German wins his first-round against Nicolas Jarry of Chile.
Three of this week’s featured players – Thiem, Gilles Simon, and Wu – took time out from their day to attend the draw ceremony that was held at the Kunlon Jing An hotel on Saturday morning.
Simon, who is one of two players to journey to the Rolex Shanghai Masters all 10 years of the tournaments’ existence, ended up having the task of picking his first-round opponent during the draw. The other player here for a 10th straight Shanghai tournament is Spaniard Feliciano Lopez, who is competing in this year’s qualifying event with the hopes of making the main draw.
Simon pulled his own name first to set up a meeting against 16th-seeded Marco Cecchinato of Italy.
“There was just a few names left in the box so it was a strange moment,” Simon said. “I was sitting with Dominic (Thiem) and we were saying name after name, it’s tough everywhere. There’s so many good players in a tournament like this, the best players in the world.”
The tournament is less than 24-hours away from the main draw getting underway and the excitement is building as it always does. And when the week comes to its conclusion fans will know who will be the lucky 10th champion of the Rolex Shanghai Masters.