The most noteworthy aspect of Novak Djokovic’s Shanghai Masters tournament is not that he didn’t win; it is the person he didn’t play.
Ever since Daniil Medvedev defeated Djokovic at the Cincinnati Masters — where Djokovic’s health began to become an issue (at least within the context of live match play) — the tennis world has looked forward to a reunion between the two players.
It almost happened at the U.S. Open, but Djokovic’s health and Stan Wawrinka both got in the way.
In Shanghai, the health problems left the scene, but Stefanos Tsitsipas — much like Alexander Zverev against Roger Federer in another quarterfinal — found refreshment after a nightmarish summer and rediscovered his foremost fighting qualities.
Tsitsipas won, in a match which offers encouragement for the resurgent winner and offers no cause for concern for the loser.
Tsitsipas — like Zverev — played so little tennis over the summer that he was physically and mentally fresh. He had not carried a significant workload over the previous three months, a reality which often (though obviously not always) leads to successful autumn tennis. It’s why this year offers so many upsets; it is a different emotional realm compared to the more central portions of a tennis season.
Djokovic’s loss to Tsitsipas prevented him from facing Medvedev in the semifinals. We will have to wait for their next encounter.
This result makes the ATP Finals the obvious focal point for the remainder of Djokovic’s season. The ATP Finals will probably decide year-end No. 1 between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. While Rafa has had the better season to this point, Djokovic regaining the title at the ATP Finals — where neither he nor any other Big 3 player have won the championship since 2015 — would enable Nole to say that he had the best men’s tennis season on the ATP Tour in 2019.
At those ATP Finals, assuming Rafa plays, Djokovic would have either Medvedev or Roger Federer in his group.
It is quite a plot twist when playing someone other than Federer rates as the more interesting development in any men’s tennis context… but here we are.
The next Djokovic-Medvedev match at a high-profile event remains (rightly) a big point of focus for the global tennis community. Shanghai didn’t offer it.
Maybe London will.
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