September 30, 2014 by Parveer Mann
As China seems to be having a tennis moment right now with Li Na’s retirement and new tournaments popping up in Wuhan and Shenzhen, it’s no surprise that this week’s China Open feels like a big deal with big stories. The return of Rafael Nadal, the closest Race to London ever and the last WTA mandatory event before Singapore guarantees China’s moment should continue for at least a little longer.
Nadal’s back, faces tough challenge
After a right hand injury sidelined him post-Wimbledon and forced him to miss the entire summer hard-court season and US Open, nobody knew exactly when Rafael Nadal would return to tennis action. Even though the injury was not to one of his oft-injured knees, there was still speculation that Nadal would not return at all this year and that chatter only sharpened after he withdrew his name from the newly formed IPTL. However, he’s back this week in Beijing and I feel expectations could not be more tempered and I believe Nadal wants it that way.
Traditionally, the end of the year has been Nadal’s least successful part of the season as noted by his inability to win either Paris-Bercy or the World Tour Finals in his career. So most will not be expecting big results and that should allow him ample time to shake off any rust before the end of this season and the beginning of the next one. Plus, remember the start of Nadal’s 2013 season when most of us expected a slow start only to see him rip through the competition. He seems to be a player who strives after any setback or circumstance and this shouldn’t be different.
It’ll all start Tuesday when he faces Richard Gasquet, a former top-10 talent in a match that either sets the tone for his return or raises further speculation about it.
Race to London gears up
I envision that ATP officials must be overjoyed when they look at how competitive the Race to London is shaping up to be with five weeks remaining. With only five players guaranteed berths (I’m assuming Marin Ciilic stays in the Top 20 to ensure his place as Grand Slam champion), there are three at-large spots remaining with as many as eight men vying for a spot.
Table 1: ATP Race to London entering Sep, 29, 2014
It’s incredible that nine months into the season less than 500 points separate spots 6 to 11 and the likes of Tsonga and Gulbis are one really good tournament away from being back in the conversation. However, the more intriguing storyline is the blend of old and young guard who will be fighting fervently for these final spots. With Ferrer, Berdych and Murray, you have veterans who are accustomed to being in the final eight but who all have struggled to varying degrees all season. In turn with Nishikori, Raonic and Dimitrov, you have the next generation of ATP stars coming off stellar Grand Slam seasons trying to breakthrough to their first World Tour finals. I believe the race this year may become the kind of meaningful exercise that should certainly bring a certain degree of attention and excitement to the last few ATP events beginning in Beijing and Tokyo this week.