Watch List: Tokyo boasts strong field
Rafael Nadal (from left), Viktor Troicki, David Ferrer and Andy Murray headline the Draw in Tokyo. (Zumapress)
The Watch List is a weekly feature that spotlights the must-know storylines from the upcoming week in tennis.
Rafa Returns: The men are in Beijing and Tokyo this week, and with Novak Djokovic's withdrawal from Beijing putting a damper on the ATP side of that joint event, Tokyo becomes the focal point.
Rafael Nadal leads an entertaining field along with Andy Murray, David Ferrer and Mardy Fish. While tournaments of this size don't typically get interesting until the later rounds, Tokyo offers some intriguing potential early-round matches. Fish already needed more than two and a half hours to fend off a pesky Ryan Harrison, and other first-round matches include Murray-Marcos Baghdatis and Bernard Tomic-Viktor Troicki. It only gets better from there with potential clashes between Nadal and Milos Raonic (making his Tour return) and Fish-Ernests Gulbis in the second round, and Nadal-Janko Tipsarevic and Murray-David Nalbandian as possible quarterfinals.
Nadal seemed run down and exhausted after the U.S. Open, but he put to rest some of the concerns about his physical and mental fatigue at the Davis Cup. He demolished his French opposition on the red clay. Now, the test moves back to hardcourts, where Nadal would have to battle through a field of classic hardcourters (Raonic, Tipsarevic, Fish, Murray) to capture his first non-clay title of 2011. In fact, it would be his first non-clay title in exactly one year. The last one? Tokyo 2010.
The Race to the Race: On the heels of Serena Williams' and Maria Sharapova's withdrawing, the last thing Beijing needed was to see Li Na go down listlessly in the first round. But that's what happened and now the tournament will have to rely on some of the deeper storylines to carry the day.
There are still four spots up for grabs for the Championships in Istanbul, with Li, Vera Zvonareva, Samantha Stosur, Marion Bartoli, Andrea Petkovic and Agnieszka Radwanska all in the mix. Li's loss has opened up Stosur's quarter, should she be able to get past Maria Kirilenko in the second round (the two will meet Tuesday for the third time in 30 days). A deep run here would stave off some of the "post-Slam slump" talk that's already swirling and almost assuredly lock up her spot at the Championships.
Beijing also sees the return of two Germans in Petkovic and Sabine Lisicki. Petkovic, currently ninth in the Race, took time off after the U.S. Open to heal up her knee. Lisicki is back, though she's suffering from a viral illness that forced her to withdraw from her doubles with Stosur and retire in her second-round match against Kaia Kanepi.
Given that Zvonareva and Radwanksa were drawn into the same quarter (Aga has owned Vera on hardcourts this year), keep an eye on the young Pole. She was fantastic in winning Tokyo last week and, barring fatigue, should make the semifinals in Beijing. Could she pull off the double?
Papa Don't Preach: Caroline Wozniacki almost got hit off the court in her first-round match against Lucie Hradecka, needing three sets and a Hradecka implosion to survive 3-6, 6-0, 7-5. That's not news. The news is that she didn't call down her father/coach/non-coach, Piotr (who is with her in Beijing), for a coaching timeout. One of the criticisms levied against the world No. 1 has been her heavy reliance on on-court coaching during WTA Tour events, something that is not allowed during Grand Slams. Could this be a turning point in the young Dane's career? She needs to learn how to problem-solve on her own.
Go Fish: Fish needs a strong fall to cement his spot at the ATP World Tour Finals in London. He is No. 6 in the Year-To-Date rankings with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga hot on his heels at No. 7. With the year the American has had, it would be a shame to see him miss out on London, but a solid push through the fall tournaments should book his spot. Scots and Spaniards: The last time Murray went a full season without beating Nadal was in 2007. He hasn't beaten him in 2011 yet, despite clashing four times (though three were in Slam semifinals). If the seeds hold, he'll get a fifth chance against Rafa in Tokyo.