Novak Djokovic arrived in Shanghai on Monday just hours after lifting his eighth trophy of the year in Beijing – and few look capable of stopping him grab title number nine this week.
A 6-2, 6-2 victory over long-time rival Rafael Nadal underlined the dominance of the world No1, who stretched his China Open winning streak to 29 matches without dropping a set.
Defending Shanghai Masters champion Roger Federer and Andy Murray await in China’s southeastern metropolis, in what is a challenge of a different order for Djokovic with an elite men’s field.
But the 10-time Grand Slam-winner is no stranger to success at the Qi Zhong Stadium, after claiming two Masters titles and the 2008 Tennis Masters Cup at the large venue on the city’s outskirts.
After a breathtaking China Open, when he lost only 18 games and extended his record to 9-0 in Chinese finals, Djokovic had no doubts about the need to maintain his level.
“Well, I’m hoping definitely. I know the conditions are slightly different. I’m going to get a couple days of rest and practice and get ready,” he said. “I mean, it’s not the first time I’m playing back-to-back weeks. Next week’s tournament is going to be even stronger because obviously all the best players in the world are there.
“This positive week definitely encourages me and gives me a lot of confidence for Shanghai.”
Second seed Federer preferred not to dwell on a potential final against Djokovic, as he sizes up his half of the draw which includes Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Kei Nishikori and Stanislas Wawrinka.
“Playing in semis or finals doesn’t matter. Looks like you have to beat him at some stage the way he’s playing right now. If you play him in the semis or the finals, it doesn’t really matter,” said the Swiss.
“I don’t think that far ahead, to be quite honest.”
— Novak Djokovic (@DjokerNole) October 13, 2015
Britain’s Murray is returning from a nearly four-week break as he heads into a busy season’s end which will culminate in next month’s Davis Cup final against Belgium.
“I feel fresh. The positives of playing a lot of tennis, playing a lot of tournaments is your body gets used to playing matches. You feel confident because you played a lot,” said the Scot.
In yesterday’s first-round matches, last year’s US Open champion Marin Cilic escaped a major shock when he came from a set down and saved a match point before beating China’s Wu Di 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/4).
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga also took three sets to subdue Tommy Robredo 6-7 (5/7), 6-2, 6-2, while Australia’s Nick Krygios reached the second round with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Austrian Andreas Haider-Maurer.
John Isner needed just 45 minutes to crush Adrian Mannarino in the opening round of the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
The big-serving American, seeded 13, fired down 20 aces – 10 in each set – on his way to a 6-1 6-2 victory over the Frenchman.
Feliciano Lopez, the 15th-seeded Spaniard, had to come through a sterner test against Russian qualifier Andrey Kuznetsov.
He was on court for more than an hour longer before clinching a 6-4 7-6 (7/3) success.
Sixteenth seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga recovered from a set down to defeat Spaniard Tommy Robredo 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-2 as the Frenchman looks to make up for his absence in last year’s tournament.
Australian Nick Kyrgios enjoyed smooth progress thanks to a 6-3 6-2 win over Austria’s Andreas Haider-Maurer, while Croatia’s Ivo Karlovic saw off France’s Jeremy Chardy 6-4 7-6 (8/6).
Marin Cilic avoided a major upset against home wildcard Di Wu in the final match of the day.
The 14th-seeded Croatian needed 15 aces to finally see off a valiant effort from the world number 227, prevailing in a 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) victory which lasted over two hours.
— Nicholas Kyrgios (@NickKyrgios) October 12, 2015
Other first-round winners included Slovakia’s Martin Klizan, who will play top seed Novak Djokovic in the next round, American Steve Johnson, for whom third seed Andy Murray is next up, Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut and Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos, who will face 2013 semi-finalist Tsonga.
There were also wins for Leonardo Mayer of Argentina, Austria’s Dominic Thiem and Spanish qualifier Albert Ramos-Vinolas, who earned a meeting with Roger Federer.
Rafael Nadal said he will have to wait and see if he can play next week’s Shanghai Masters after injuring his foot during defeat in the China Open final on Sunday.
Nadal was moving gingerly after his loss to Novak Djokovic and he will monitor the right foot problem when he flies from Beijing to Shanghai on Monday.
“I have to wait until tomorrow. I felt something, but hopefully it’s fine. I don’t know,” Nadal said. “My schedule is go to Shanghai and practice tomorrow afternoon. For the moment, still the same.”
Despite the injury, eighth-ranked Nadal was pleased to have played his first hardcourt final this year, after a season when he has dropped well off the pace set by Djokovic.
The 29-year-old said he had growing belief that he could pull off yet another comeback and return to the stage where he can mount a realistic challenge to the imperious Serb.
“I’m going to fight. I’m going to do it my way,” he said. “When I was number two and Roger was number one, it was not my obsession to catch Roger. My obsession was to improve my game and do my way.
“For me is the same thing today,” he said. “My motivation is to keep going, do it my way, and I have been that way already. I know if I am playing well again, then I can fight.
— TennisTV (@TennisTV) October 11, 2015
“If I can fight, I can compete well (a number of ) times in a row against the best players, then normally I was a good competitor. So I think I going to be good competitor again if I recover my level.”
Nadal has been written off before in his career and has managed to recover, notably in 2013 when he returned from a serious knee injury and climbed back to world No. 1.
He had previously demonstrated his grit and determination when he doggedly tracked down and overtook Federer, the long-time world number one, in 2008.
“Obviously today (Djokovic) is better than me, and that’s it. I hope to fight again with the top players because I have motivation to do it and I am working very hard and well,” Nadal said.