While the original expression refers to unsuspecting civilians getting shipped off to distant destinations as unwilling sailors, the world’s top tennis players of today would love to “get Shanghaied” if it means hoisting aloft the coveted trophy at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
The penultimate Masters 1000 event of the year and the only one held in Asia is unique in so many ways, making Shanghai practically a third player on the court.
“Asia is always a little bit different for us. We don’t really play here that much, so we only come here for two, three weeks a year,” Alexander Zverev, a first-time semifinalist remarked.
To help the athletes get used to their surroundings, Player Services helps with everything from restaurant recommendations and shopping tips to advice on cultural differences and to avoid giving gifts of clocks (for which the Chinese word sounds like “end of life”) or letter openers (implying the severing of a relationship).
With the player hotel, the luxe Kunlun Jing An, set right in Shanghai’s historic French Concession filled with chic boutiques and trendy eateries, players can easily explore the tree-lined streets at their leisure.
The riverside Bund, where the Players’ Party was held, is also a favorite for its vibrant nightlife, as is Shanghai Disney Resort, where Roger Federer’s family visited. “Hearing about their adventures here in Shanghai is super exciting. They are having a blast while I’m working. It’s all good,” the Swiss said with a smile.
Quarterfinalist Kevin Anderson agreed, saying: “Coming to Shanghai, there is a lot of nice activities in the city and around the site. So that’s always good just to take away from tennis a little bit.”
Shanghai superfans are also part and parcel of the tennis landscape, often waiting late into the night to see the players; colour-coordinating their outfits and waving everything from handmade banners to painted player portraits.
“You very rarely get a chance to see a group of guys getting together like this, sitting in a row, and holding up massive banners. I feel like that’s very unique here in Shanghai. They devote their time and creativity, almost like a football fan, and they are all together there to support me,” fan-favorite Federer said.
Djokovic, who has taken to writing Chinese characters including “love” and “China” onto the camera lens after his matches, said of his fans: “They are my teachers, professors of Chinese language and culture. I really think that they are one of the best tennis fans in the world. They give me a lot of love.”
Even the ball kids are memorable, in particular, a 12-year-old Chen Jiarui who featured in not one but two viral videos, once in 2016 for bravely taking a serve to the stomach and this year, for an adorably terrified reaction off a Sascha Zverev fist pump a little too close to him. The German met up with the youngster afterward to present him with a consolatory bandana.
The Rolex Shanghai Masters position towards the end of the season also means it often figures into important milestones, as it did this year, when Zverev qualified for his second straight season-ending championships, and Djokovic, Federer, and Juan Martin del Potro battled it out in a three-man race for the world No. 2 ranking.
In its 10th edition the Rolex Shanghai Masters has earned high marks with the players. Federer recalled being here to inaugurate Qizhong Stadium, saying that a ‘beautiful stadium inspires beautiful tennis’ while quarterfinalist Kei Nishikori summed things up perfectly: “I think all the players love this tournament and facility. Player services one of the best here. Everybody loves this tournament, and it’s important. Especially I’m from Asia, I’d love to see many more big tournaments from Asia.”