The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray pick up their rackets again and the boys and girls play nicely together in Beijing.
China Open, Beijing (ATP): Novak Djokovic begins his push for the year-end No. 1 ranking as he tries to defend his Beijing title against a field that includes David Ferrer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Bangkok champion Richard Gasquet. Most of those men are in the other half of the draw, which means Djokovic’s road to the final should be a fairly easy one. If Gasquet isn’t, well, gassed, the two could meet in the semifinals.
The bottom half of the draw with Ferrer, Tsonga and Tommy Haas should yield the more interesting matches throughout the week. Sam Querrey has already scored a first round upset over No. 8 seed Fernando Verdasco, and Ryan Harrison will take on Feliciano Lopez on Tuesday.
Potential early matches to watch: Tommy Haas vs. Mikhail Youzhny (first round), Ryan Harrison vs. Feliciano Lopez (first round), David Ferrer vs. Lu Yen-Hsun (first round), Sam Querrey vs. Julien Benneteau (second round), Jo-Wilfried Tsonga vs. Tommy Haas (third round), Novak Djokovic vs. Alexander Dolgopolov (third round).
China Open, Beijing (WTA): While Novak may be the center of attention in Beijing, the women of the WTA are actually fielding the stronger tournament this week, with double the prize purse of the men’s tournament. Unfortunately, Serena Williams’ withdrawal means the mandatory tournament simply feels like an expanded redux of last week’s tournament in Tokyo, where nine of the top 10 women also competed. Is Beijing really going to offer us anything different?
So far it doesn’t look like it. Much like last week, Agnieszka Radwanska has the tough task of defending a big chunk of points, this time as the defending champion. Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova lost early and quietly, Caroline Wozniacki is struggling but winning three-set matches, and Maria Sharapova is still showing signs of fatigue. The one to watch in Beijing will be Victoria Azarenka, who was forced to withdraw from Tokyo last week with dizziness. Her 6-1, 6-0 destruction of Alize Cornet in the first round would seem to indicate she’s feeling much better now.
Potential early matches to watch: Victoria Azarenka vs. Sabine Lisicki (second round), Li Na vs. Nadia Petrova (second round), Caroline Wozniacki vs. Hsieh Su-Wei (second round), Maria Sharapova vs. Sorana Cirstea (second round), Marion Bartoli vs. Sam Stosur (third round), Laura Robson vs. Agnieszka Radwanska (third round), Caroline Wozniacki vs. Angelique Kerber (third round).
Rakuten Japan Open, Tokyo (ATP): U.S. Open champion Andy Murray returns to the Rakuten Open to defend his 2011 title. The biggest question here is whether we’ll see the inevitable let-down from the best summer of Murray’s career. He dodged a bit of a bullet when his first round opponent, Gael Monfils, withdrew from the tournament with knee troubles, but Monfils replacement, Ivo Karlovic, offers an entirely different challenge.
While Djokovic has a fairly easy road to his title defense in Beijing, Murray’s is littered with landmines. He could face Stanislas Wawrinka in the third round, Janko Tipsarevic, Gilles Simon or Milos Raonic in the semifinals, and Tomas Berdych in the final. No doubt Berdych would love to get some revenge for his wind-addled loss to Murray in the U.S. Open semis. That’s a match I’d love to see.
Potential early matches to watch: Gilles Simon vs. Janko Tipsarevic (first round), Grigor Dimitrov vs. Juan Monaco (first round), Nicolas Almagro vs. Bernard Tomic (second round), Martin Klizan vs. Janko Tipsarevic (second round), Andy Murray vs. Stanislas Wawrinka (third round), Milos Raonic vs. Janko Tipsarevic/Gilles Simon/Martin Klizan (third round).