Andrew Burton — Tennis With An Accent
This year’s ATP Asian swing, at least in the run-up to the culminating tournament in Shanghai, is more striking for the men who aren’t there than the men who are (bar one).
The ATP 1, 2, 3 in 2008? Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic. In 2018? Three guesses. (Yeah, you got them. Same order, too – at least for a few weeks). Federer and Djokovic are skipping the warm-up 250 and 500 tournaments. This isn’t a surprise for Federer, who last played one of the 500s, Tokyo, in 2006. But Novak Djokovic is a six-time winner in Beijing, and his absence leaves a hole in the China Open draw – with a twin hole being made by the two-time winner and two-time finalist Nadal.
Who else is missing? A group of hard charging new young stars. Stefanos Tsitsipas announced himself as a future star with his run to the Rogers Cup final in August – but the future isn’t here yet, as Tsitsipas has laid an egg in each subsequent tournament. Hyeon Chung and Kyle Edmund have similarly failed to build on their Australian Open runs at the start of 2018.
One perennial attraction of the Asian Swing is its contribution to the ATP Race to London – which has become a bit of a yawner at this stage of 2018. Six of the usual suspects are pretty much locks – the Big 3 plus Del Potro, Cilic and Zverev (okay, it’s a bit of a stretch to call Sascha Zverev one of the usual suspects). Dominic Thiem and Kevin Anderson are well positioned for 7 and 8, with John Isner and Kei Nishikori well ahead of the chasing pack (though Nishikori is a full 900 points behind Anderson). We might have a turn up – a Nalbandian or Sock coming through at the death – but if London’s calling, it’s calling familiar names.
One man who won’t be there is Andy Murray. But he had his best win so far on the comeback trail, knocking off David Goffin, the No. 1 seed, at the Shenzhen 250 in the R-16. It’s been two years since Murray barnstormed through Asia on his way to the year-end No. 1 ranking, pipping Djokovic in the last match of the season in the O2 Arena. Can Murray lay the foundations of 2019 triumphs in the next few weeks? Or like others in the ATP top 20, is he here today, gone tomorrow?
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