SHENZHEN, CHINA – After a long, exhausting summer, punctuated by the Olympics and the U.S. Open, many of the top players have taken a break from regular tour events, opting for Davis Cup, fall holidays, fashion shows and tennis played in kilts. This week, however, some of the world’s top men’s players begin the China swing, made up of four tournaments at the ATP 250, 500 and Masters 1,000 levels.
While storylines for Beijing’s China Open and the Shanghai Masters will undoubtedly center on the Race for London, the theme for the first week of play in China is “redemption”—players looking to salvage mediocre seasons, come back from injury, or take advantage of a week where only two Top 10 players are in action.
For the first time, China will host two competing 250-level tournaments in the same week, with the addition of the inaugural Chengdu Open, replacing the Malaysian Open. Known best to outsiders for its fiery Szechwan cuisine and giant pandas, scenic Chengdu is surrounded by mountains and is where the Chinese go to get away from the heat. Its pace of life is so slow, it’s spawned a Chinese saying: “The young should never go to Chengdu and the old should never leave.”
The tournament’s top seeds represent the past, present and future of men’s tennis with Dominic Thiem seeded No. 1, followed by Nick Kyrgios, Grigor Dimitrov and Feliciano Lopez. Thiem will be looking to prove the critics wrong who point to compulsive overscheduling as the reason for dismal fall hard court results. Coming off a finals appearance in Moselle, France, (losing to Lucas Pouille), Thiem will once again be putting his fitness to the test, as he’s also entered in the doubles with Radek Stepanek. Since retiring in the third round of the U.S. Open with a hip injury, Kyrgios has only played one match, in Davis Cup. Dimitrov is also looking for his first title of the year, after imploding in his most recent final in Istanbul and bowing out meekly to Andy Murray at the U.S. Open, winning only 5 games. Another interesting doubles pairing to watch is Kyrgios and Viktor Troicki.
Traditionally, the Shenzhen Open, has enjoyed strong fields, with Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych winning the first two installments. Berdych is back to defend his title, looking to continue his comeback from appendicitis which kept him out of the U.S. Open. Opting for antibiotics instead of surgery, Berdych reached the semifinals last week in St. Petersburg in his first tournament back, falling to eventual champion Alexander Zverev. He’ll also be looking to give new coach Goran Ivanisevic some much-needed real-time data to work with, having only played five matches together (two in Cincinnati and three in St. Petersburg). As he did last year, Berdych comes to Shenzhen looking for his first title of the year. To get there, he’ll potentially have to navigate past two solid Czech players in Lukas Rosol and Jiri Vesely.
Waiting in the semis might be No. 4 seed Bernard Tomic who is looking to salvage a lackluster year—the 23-year-old Australian has only made one ATP final and one semifinal and has lost six times in his opening match, including in the first round at the U.S. Open. To get to the semis, Tomic may have to go through last year’s finalist Guillermo Garcia-Lopez, and red-hot teen Zverev in the quarters, who joined Pouille in becoming first-time titlists this past week. Zverev won in St. Petersburg, beating top-seed Stan Wawrinka in three-sets.
On the other side of the draw, second-seeded David Goffin will be looking to bounce back from a first round loss at the U.S. Open, although the 14th-ranked Belgian showed some life in reaching last week’s Open de Moselle semifinal. Third seed Richard Gasquet has been plagued with a chronic back injury this year—he retired in the Round of 16 at Wimbledon and lost in the U.S. Open first round—but he’ll be aided by a seemingly easy path to the quarters, with a bye in the first round before facing a qualifier in his opening match ahead of a potential meeting with No. 7 seed Fabio Fognini.