Shanghai shakedown decided in Paris
Originally published on: 26/02/10 15:01
It’s that time of the year again – the Masters Series draws to a close with the ninth and final round in Paris.
And while that is reason enough to expect some fireworks, there’s always a little added spice at the BNP Paribas Masters, as the year’s nearly-men launch that final push towards the season-ending Masters Cup in Shanghai.
With Grand Slam winners Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic already joined by Andy Murray and most recently Nikolay Davydenko, there are three spots remaining in the eight-man competition – and plenty of contenders.
Since the US Open, the men’s top 20 have been scouring the globe in search of ATP Race rankings points but, with Paris marking the end of the road, there are just a handful of players left with a shout of making the trip to China.
Here’s our breakdown of the Shanghai hopefuls heading to the French capital from Monday – and their chances:
ATP Race rankings correct as of Saturday October 25
6. Andy Roddick (369 pts)
The American is garnering himself a reputation as a player who makes it hard for himself. Roddick ought to have cemented a spot in Shanghai by now, and the Beijing Open was a giant leap towards the Masters Cup.
But with just a small step remaining, Roddick is faltering. An untimely defeat to Tomas Berdych in Tokyo and losing from a set up in Madrid against Gael Monfils and most recently again Soderling in the Lyon semis means that, mathematically, it is still possible for the chasing pack to force him out of the hunt.
And his Paris draw looks ominous. With the last-16 draw likely to feature the in-form Frenchman Gilles Simon, Roddick may find himself sweating on the progress of Blake, Wawrinka and Tsonga.
CHANCES: Get the VISA stamp ready. Roddick may well not do it on his terms, but it would take a small miracle (or disaster) for him to be ousted from the top eight.
7. Juan Martin Del Potro (354 pts)
What a year for Delpo. Four ATP titles on the bounce in the run-up to the US Open announced the Argentine’s emergence as a force to be reckoned with, and Del Potro has continued to impress, reaching the final in Tokyo.
But the rigours of a gruelling season appear to be catching up with him. A toe injury forced him to withdraw in Vienna, and in Basel this week he was defeated by compatriot David Nalbandian, after which the 20-year-old admitted he was “tired, both mentally and physically.”
Despite the upcoming Davis Cup final, Del Potro is determined to make the trip to China. But there are no easy draws in Paris – he’ll most likely have to face Nalbandian again, and Andy Murray in the quarters.
CHANCES: Fair. He’s put himself firmly in contention, but in doing so might well have run out of steam.
8. Gilles Simon (341 pts)
The Frenchman has found his form at just the right times this season to pick up enough points to stay in the hunt, but it was his run to the Madrid final that saw Simon shoot up the Race rankings from also-ran to genuine contender for China.
Three titles this season, and Masters Series wins against Roger Federer and last week against Rafael Nadal, show that the 23-year-old has the game to make it to Shanghai.
And should he find a way past Roddick – which, given his current form, is not out of the question – he may find himself packing his bags for the trip out east.
CHANCES: With the home crowd behind him, and a chance to down one of his main rivals in the last 16, the ball is in Simon’s court.
9. David Ferrer (338 pts)
He might have made last year’s Masters Cup final, where he lost to Federer in straight sets, but the Spaniard is sinking down the Race rankings like a lead balloon.
Ferrer hasn’t strung together three successive victories since surprising everybody with a grass-court title victory in s’Hertogenbosch, and it would be as big a surprise if he suddenly turned up raring to go in Paris.
With players in the chasing pack showing better form and desperate to make an impact, the Spaniard could be left by the wayside.
CHANCES: Last year Ferrer rode out a poor end to the season on the back of his US Open semi-final appearance and a title in Tokyo – but no such form this season.
10. James Blake (310 pts)
The highest-ranked player without a title in 2008 – yet – but two finals and an Olympic bronze medal match have been backed up by solid if uninspiring performances throughout the year.
And it might just be that the tennis gods are smiling on the likeable New Yorker. As well as the out-of-form Ferrer, Federer and Gasquet are the other seeds in Blake’s section – and the Frenchman has just withdrawn, with Federer leaving it late to state his intentions.
CHANCES: If Federer withdraws as well, Blake must reach the semis in Paris and hope that Simon and Del Potro don’t – both to qualify, and to do himself justice.
11. Stanislas Wawrinka (301 pts)
No titles for the Swiss No.2 either, but two finals and an Olympic doubles gold are testament to another solid season for Wawrinka.
And again like Blake, the big seed in his section – Nikolay Davydenko – is considering withdrawing with the wrist injury that kept him out of the St Petersburg Open.
But Wawrinka, along with Blake and Tsonga, have to produce in Paris – and hope for some upsets early in the week.
CHANCES: Slim, but still a chance.
12. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (290 pts)
The Frenchman has experienced the highs and lows of life at the top of the game in 2008. A Grand Slam final appearance in Australia announced Tsonga’s arrival to the masses, but knee surgery ahead of the French Open scuppered his summer season.
After his first-round exit at the US Open, it looked as if 2008 was coming to a quiet close, but the 23-year-old bounced straight back, beating Novak Djokovic in Bangkok to seal his maiden title.
CHANCES: It’d take a miracle for Tsonga to make Shanghai – but after the Australian Open, never write the Frenchman off – particularly at home.
13. Fernando Gonzalez (284 pts)
Gonzo made a name for himself at the Masters Cup last year when he beat Roger Federer in the round-robin stage, but there’ll be none of that this year. The Chilean has pulled out of Paris, marking the end of his 2008 season.
CHANCES: See you next year…
14. David Nalbandian (275 pts)
A bit of an odd one, our David. We’re getting used to his late surge each season, and 2008 is no different – he’ll leapfrog Gonzalez with 290 points if he can beat Roger Federer in the Basel final on Sunday.
The Argentine has been to the Masters Cup three times during his career. He claimed the title in 2005 in breathtaking style, coming from two sets down to win in five.
But Nalbo apparently has no intention of heading to Shanghai, whether he qualifies or not. With Argentina playing in their first Davis Cup final against Spain from November 21-23, the 26-year-old reportedly refuses to let the Masters Cup cloud his focus.
CHANCES: Potential rogue agent. Nalbandian may not be interested in the chase, but he could damage compatriot Del Potro’s hopes should they meet in the last 16.
15. Fernando Verdasco (268 pts)
It’s quite simple really. Should Verdasco wish to overhaul the 72-point margin between himself and Simon, currently in the final berth, he will most likely have to beat Andy Murray in the last 16, Del Potro or Nalbandian in the quarters and Nadal in the semis.
Or the players that beat them. Too big an ask in our opinion.
CHANCES: Forget what the calculator says – Nil. None. Nada.
16. Gael Monfils (264 pts)
It would take a spectacular series of events for Monfils to reach Shanghai – but maybe they’re already happening. Gonzalez’s withdrawal has put the Frenchman amongst the seeds, although it also puts him on a collision course with Rafael Nadal in the last 16.
After a season gilded with a semi-final appearance on his last visit to Paris and marred by injury that ruled him out of Wimbledon, the Frenchman can be content that he has begun to turn the corner from talented maverick to established top-20 player.
CHANCES: It’d make a great story, but unlikely tales always do. Next year should see the Frenchman in better shape.