Djokovic Tries To Slow Tsitsipas' London Pursuit In Shanghai Quarter-finals
Clinch a spot at the Nitto ATP Finals. Beat the World No. 1. Defeat all members of the ‘Big Three’ in the same season. Reigning Next Gen ATP Finals champion Stefanos Tsitsipas can accomplish all of that on Friday at the Rolex Shanghai Masters.
But Tsitsipas faces a stern challenge in top seed Novak Djokovic, who rides a seven-match winning streak into their third FedEx ATP Head2Head meeting. Tsitsipas defeated Djokovic last year in Toronto in their only hard-court meeting, and the Serbian got his revenge this year in the Madrid final.
If the Greek superstar upsets Djokovic, he will become the sixth player to qualify for the season finale, which will be held at The O2 from 10-17 November. But the 20-year-old can also qualify if Cincinnati titlist Daniil Medvedev beats Italian Fabio Fognini earlier in the day.
Both players carry a lot of momentum into the clash, with Djokovic fresh off the Rakuten Japan Open Tennis Championships title he won last week and Tsitsipas has earned five Top 30 wins in the past week and a half, after earning only five of them between the start of Rome in May and the beginning of last week's ATP 500 event in Beijing.
Tsitsipas is already the youngest player to defeat each member of the ‘Big Three’ — Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal — and now he can do it in a single year, having beaten Federer at the Australian Open and Nadal in Madrid.
“It's going to be very interesting the next couple of years to see how tennis will evolve and how the young guys are going to dominate the game,” Tsitsipas said after his second-round win in Shanghai. “I have been trying really hard to be up there, and I know that it's not easy for me to maintain that level, because if I keep doing the same thing, my opponents will know what I'm doing and what works for me, so I always have to constantly improve and get better.”
It is also an important match for Djokovic, as the Serbian continues to close on Rafael Nadal in the battle to finish year-end No. 1. Djokovic can pull to within 460 points of Nadal in the ATP Race To London if he lifts his fifth Shanghai trophy this week.
“There is always something to work on. That’s the beauty of sport and life in general, you can always improve,” Djokovic said. “But I am very happy with the way I’m playing, with the way I’m feeling on the court.”
There will be another battle of the generations between 38-year-old Roger Federer and 22-year-old Alexander Zverev. There is a lot at stake for both men, with Federer pursuing his 29th ATP Masters 1000 crown and reigning Nitto ATP Finals champion Zverev scratching and clawing to return to The O2.
Zverev is currently in eighth place in the Race, as he is pushing to compete in the season finale for the third consecutive year. The German impressively bagelled good friend Andrey Rublev in the first set of their third-round match, eventually triumphing in straight sets,
“I think it was very good tennis, but I know against Roger it’s going to be very, very difficult,” Zverev said. “He’s going to try to different things and it’s going to be a difficult match.”
Federer, a two-time Shanghai champion, is trying to take a 4-3 lead in his rivalry with Zverev, who ousted the Swiss superstar in the semi-finals of last year’s Nitto ATP Finals. Federer is also trying to make the last four of a tournament for the first time since Wimbledon.
Medvedev and Fognini have split their two previous meetings. And while Medvedev has already booked his London spot, Fognini is trying to compete on the singles court at The O2 for the first time, and a victory against the Russian would catapult him into the Top 10 in the Race.
“I think it's the worst player that I can play at the moment, because he changed completely in the summer. Of course he was also great before, but he made an unbelievable change during the U.S. swing, and he's dangerous. He's really dangerous,” Fognini said. “He's really comfortable inside the court. But I'm here to try to complicate [the match for] him, try to take my chances, have the chance. If not, I fly home.”
The final singles match of the day pits last week’s Beijing winner, Dominic Thiem, against another London hopeful in Matteo Berrettini in what promises to be a big-hitting match. Thiem won their only previous match at Roland Garros last year on clay, his favourite surface.
One year ago, Berrettini lost in Shanghai qualifying as the World No. 54. Now he is No. 13 in the ATP Rankings and in contention for a spot in the Nitto ATP Finals. If the Italian beats the Austrian and Zverev loses to Federer, Berrettini will climb into seventh spot in the Race.