Shenzhen Open recap: Berdych nears ATP Finals berth with 11th career title
SHENZHEN, CHINA – In only its second year, last week's Shenzhen Open (replacing the Thailand Open on the ATP calendar) kicked off the three-week, five-tournament Asian swing—a jam-packed, mad dash for end-of-year points and prize money. The city of Shenzhen is known for its industrial manufacturing and proximity to Hong Kong (just an hour from city center to city center). Just a small fishing town before it was named China’s first Special Economic Zone in 1979, Shenzhen became one of the fastest growing cities in the world in the 1990s and 2000s, now with more than 18 million people living in the metropolitan area. The Ping An Finance Centre, just across from the players’ hotel, is set to become the fourth tallest building in the world when it’s completed next year.
The tournament scored a coup at last year’s inaugural event when Andy Murray took a wild card to kick off a seven-week stretch of play which saw him win three titles starting in Shenzhen. This year saw different storylines developing:
Return of the seeds
Heading into the Shenzhen Open, Tomas Berdych had yet to win a title after making three finals in Doha, Rotterdam and Monte Carlo. But top-seeded Berdych regained the form that saw him make the semifinals or better at seven of his first eight tournaments in 2015. After rain delayed the final matches, Berdych prevailed, topping Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6–3, 7–6 to claim the amber mythical bird trophy and his 11th ATP title.
No. 2-seed Marin Cilic returned to the tour after suffering an ankle injury at this year’s U.S. Open, after being sidelined until April of this year with a shoulder injury. At No. 13 in the Race to London, he was out to prove that 2014 wasn’t a fluke and hoped to make a dent in the 1,000 or so points separating him from the eighth spot in the ATP Finals. But in a rain-delayed semifinal, Cilic lost in three sets to Garcia-Lopez.
Rise of the Chinese
Coinciding with a weeklong holiday centered around China’s National Day, the tournament saw four Chinese players in the main singles draw, made up of three wild cards and a qualifier. Unexpectedly, it would be the two lower-ranked players, 18-year-old qualifier Zhizheng Zhang and oft-injured Yan Bai who would advance, putting two Chinese players into the second round of an ATP World Tour event for the first time in the Open Era. This was seen as a promising result for Chinese men’s tennis, a small validation of the increased presence of professional men’s tennis in China with three ATP World Tour events, seven Challengers and a host of ITF Futures. However, it would be doubles player Mao-Xin Gong who would make it furthest in the tournament, making his first-ever semifinals appearance.
Rain, rain, go away
With all four top seeds making it to the semifinals, it wasn’t big upsets but Typhoon Mujigae that wreaked the most havoc in Shenzhen. The typhoon brought heavy rains to southern China, washing out all play on Saturday. The doubles winners (Erlich and Fleming, in only their second event together) had to play their semifinals and finals matches within hours of each other on an indoor court. The singles semifinals took more than four hours to complete, including numerous rain delays, with Berdych triumphing in a further rain-delayed Monday afternoon final.
Best quotes from a week in Shenzhen
“I know some people will say it’s because of getting married, but it’s definitely not a distraction at all. I think it has nothing to do with my career.” – Berdych on how marriage has, or hasn’t, affected his play (40-12 before marriage and 5-4 after in 2015)
“I’m still very young, so I behave how my age should be.” – 19-year-old Korean Hyeon Chung when asked to compare his unemotional and drama-free behavior with the other teens on tour
“In tough times, the people that were around me, the people that were pretending to be close to me and helping me, they crossed my face and crossed my name. They didn’t want to help.” – Cilic, on the lows he went through during his unintentional drug ban
“If you look at it, it’s only me who can create some talk about fashion, even if it’s positive or negative.” – Berdych on his buzz-worthy fashion choices since partnering with H&M
“For sure, the doubles guys [don’t] like this.” – Simone Bolelli, on how doubles specialists react to singles players being successful at doubles
“Suits and Blacklist.” – Cilic, on what TV shows he watches to pass the time
“Honestly, I wish that I met a person that he would say, ‘You do this, this, this, and you can get there.’ I think there is no one like that; it doesn’t really exist. It’s always behind the hard work, self-belief, and I think that’s it.” – Berdych on what he’s trying to innovate in his game to break into the top 4.
“I always think tennis was a really clean sport, not like football, soccer or other sports, but now maybe something is going wrong.” – Bolelli, on how clean he thinks tennis is in light of two of his countrymen being banned for life for match fixing
“Oh, wow. You know everything about me.” – Berdych, after a Chinese journalist asked him why he ate three bananas and “powder something” for breakfast