Passing Shots: Observations from Shanghai
SHANGHAI -- Emptying out the notebook from a week at the Shanghai Masters...
• The facilities at Qi Zhong Stadium, which sits on the outskirts of Shanghai, are impressive. Aside from Qi Zhong Arena, which features a retractable roof and six indoor courts that came in handy this week as the first few days were awash by Typhoon Fitow, the site features 15 additional outdoor courts. It's hard not to wonder what a joint Masters/Premier Mandatory event would look like on the grounds but that's unlikely to happen. The ATP has a good thing going here.
• One of the unfortunate downsides to such a huge facility is that it's so far removed from the city center. A taxi ride from the Shanghai proper to Qi Zhong takes 45 minutes to an hour, and the nearest metro station is a 15-minute cab ride away. Combined with the fact tennis is still trying to gain traction in China, the crowds have been relatively sparse this week. The fans who make it out are just as rabid and enthusiastic as those you'd find at any other ATP Masters 1000 event, but when it comes to drawing the casual fan for a weeknight of tennis, the logistics of the city and the location of the site are a problem -- tournament organizers are working to fix it.
• With all the language barriers encountered by foreigners in China -- I asked for a Fanta at lunch and got a hearty bowl of won ton soup instead (not that I'm complaining) -- the tournament has gone out of its way to ensure the players are well taken care of. WiFi has been installed in tournament vehicles to makes sure players can get online and the onsite internet allows them to access sites like Twitter and Facebook, which are otherwise banned in China. So you can thank the Shanghai Masters for Roger Federer's Twitter Q&A.
• Perhaps the most impressive thing I saw this week was a player-only app that allows players to set up practice times, hook up with practice partners and check on when their racket stringing will be done. It even notifies players if they've left sunglasses in a car somewhere. With the tournament hotel nearly an hour away from site, it gives the players some freedom to get their days situated without having to spend hours on site. I suspect more tournaments will start doing this. It's a great service and it earns goodwill from the players.
• New Shanghai motto: Come for the world-class tennis, stay for the xiaolongbao. Especially during hairy crab season. Phenomenal.
• Sweet and funny moment in the press room: Juan Martin del Potro was struggling with a fever earlier in the week. How sick was he feeling? "I miss my mom," Del Potro said with a sheepish smile. He's into the semifinals and set to face Rafael Nadal, so he's recovered well without mom's chicken soup.
• Lost in all the hoopla of Roger Federer's early exit, was this quote from Federer, which came in response a question about any advice he might give to Zhang Ze, his Chinese doubles partner for the week.
"This whole process of being a tennis player, it's a dream come true. Many other tennis players, or for that matter people in this country, would like to be in his shoes. It creates a lot of pressure at the same time. But tennis is a very particular sport where you need to be also a bit of a child sometimes, I believe, to perform well on the tennis court. Because if you do everything just by the book, say I wake up at 7:00, train at 8:00, then I do this, it doesn't become fun, it's like a regular job. That's now how it works. You're not going to be successful on the tennis court."
• Which of course begs the question: At what point does losing early at tournaments cease being fun for Federer?
• This Agnieszka Radwanska gif is the best thing I saw all week.
• Something that really struck me this week: Roger Federer is an unwavering optimist. It might just be his superpower.
• Bar chat: At what point do we stop using Big Four and start using Big Three without having to clarify that we mean Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray?
• I asked Jo-Wilfried Tsonga about his decision to split with Roger Rasheed, and he seemed to hint there may have been more to it than just a simple parting of the ways. But Tsonga, who is still struggling with some knee pain after coming back from his injury, is looking to restructure his team.
• Donald Young is now ranked higher than Ryan Harrison and has a chance to crack back into the top 100 next week. Great effort from him on the ATP Challenger Circuit. He began the season ranked No. 190.
• Roger Federer leaves Shanghai with an enormous FederBear and his dorky sense of humor intact. Win-win.