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Federer fever envelopes Shanghai

By Sun Xiaochen | China Daily | Updated: 2019-10-07 09:04
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But can Swiss superstar stop defending champ Djokovic reigning once more?

Fans show their support for Roger Federer at a special open-practice event featuring the Swiss great on Saturday at Shanghai's Qizhong Tennis Center. A record crowd of 17,000 spectators turned out to watch the 20-time Grand Slam winner warm up for the Rolex Shanghai Masters, which began on Sunday. Xinhua

The big guns are back in town as the Rolex Shanghai Masters serves up another mouth-watering feast of top-class tennis this week.

The Masters 1000 event has been dominated by three titans of the sport - Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Roger Federer - during its decade-long existence.

Barring the inaugural 2009 edition, when Nikolay Davydenko was crowned champion, the illustrious trio have been the only winners of the hard-court tournament, with Djokovic claiming four titles, Murray three and Federer two.

There would be only one winner, though, if it was purely a popularity contest.

On Saturday, Roger Federer Fan Day was attended by 17,000 spectators, as the Swiss great partnered with Croatian ace Marin Cilic to take on local duo Wu Di and Hua Runhao in an open practice session at Qizhong Tennis Center.

The record turnout for the annual fan treat was testament to the extra-special connection between 20-time Grand Slam winner Federer and the Shanghai crowd, which can be traced back to his back-to-back wins at the year-end ATP championships (then the Shanghai Masters Cup) in 2006 and 2007. Federer's title triumphs at this tournament in 2014 and 2017 have only served to strengthen the bond.

Despite having the crowd on his side, the 38-year-old faces a tough task to claim a third crown.

World No 1 and defending champion Novak Djokovic and rising Russian star Daniil Medvedev, ranked fourth, would appear to be the biggest obstacles to Federer's ambitions, while former No 1 Murray showed glimpses of the form that has earned him three major titles as the Briton's comeback picked up pace in Zhuhai and Beijing over the last two weeks.

A total of 56 players are competing for a share of a $7.47 million prize pool, with the singles champion earning over $1.3 million and 1,000 ranking points.

The victorious doubles duo will bag $408,840.

"The Rolex Shanghai Masters comes around at a great time of the year in China as the country celebrates the National Day holiday," said tournament director Michael Luevano.

"This year's championship promises to be bigger and better as we start our second decade on the tour."

Roger Federer is seen at a special open-practice event featuring the Swiss great on Saturday at Shanghai's Qizhong Tennis Center. [Photo/Xinhua]

With wild-card entry Murray continuing his comeback from hip surgery, this year's Shanghai Masters has assembled three of the 'Big Four', with only world No 2 and 19-time major winner Rafael Nadal absent due to a left wrist injury.

Djokovic, who won his record fourth title last year with a final victory over Croatian Borna Coric, has received a first-round bye like all the top eight seeds and awaits the winner of the match between Frances Tiafoe of the United States and Canadian Denis Shapovalov.

Attempting to secure the year-end No 1 position ahead of Nadal should provide Djokovic with extra motivation in his quest for a fifth crown.

The Serbian, a 16-time Grand Slam champion, has shown no lingering effects from a left-shoulder injury that forced him to retire midway through the US Open, with the 32-year-old on Sunday storming to the Japan Open title by beating Australian qualifier John Millman 6-3, 6-2 in Tokyo.

Federer is likely to meet his exhibition doubles partner Cilic in the second round if the big-serving Croatian gets by Spaniard Albert Ramos-Vinolas in his opener. Cilic has only once overcome Federer - at the 2014 US Open semifinals on his way to claiming his maiden major trophy.

Medvedev heads an exciting list of youngsters keen to break the trio's stranglehold on the title.

The 23-year-old strongly suggested he is a superstar in the making by reaching back-to-back Masters 1000 finals in Montreal and Cincinnati before finishing runner-up at the US Open where he pushed Nadal all the way in a thrilling five-set final.

Other challengers to watch out for this week are Austria's fifth-ranked Dominic Thiem, sixth-ranked Alexander Zverev of Germany and seventh-ranked Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece.

"The greatest players in the game are returning and tennis fans in the region will get the opportunity to see the young guns continue to make exciting strides in world tennis," said tournament director Luevano.

"For example, we are the only tournament in Asia where Medvedev, the hottest name in the sport right now, is playing."

As far as home hopes are concerned, Li Zhe, Zhang Zhizhen and Zhang Ze are looking to gain valuable experience with their wild-card entries - and maybe even spring a surprise or two.

"I think this is probably the only chance every year for us to watch and learn up close from the very best in the business and try to absorb everything and improve our own games," said Zhang Ze, who will play against a qualifier on Monday for the right to face fourth-seeded Thiem in the second round.

As ever, organizers have gone the extra mile for fans.

On Friday, the tournament's Family Day celebration, sponsored by local brand Brightdairy, offered visitors free access to the practice courts to watch the stars in action.

More flexible ticket options are available this year. Tickets for the stadium court from Monday to Friday have been divided into day and night sessions, although spectators can still purchase all-day tickets as before.

An interactive fan zone has been set up on the southwest section of the venue, where visitors can win prizes, including tickets to matches and souvenirs, participate in tennis-themed games and receive training guidance from international coaches at the "Future Masters" clinic.

Culinary delights also await fans at the venue's diversely stocked food court, where delicious Shanghai dim sum is always in high demand.

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