The Watch List spotlights the must-know storylines for the upcoming week in tennis. This week, the ATP’s Race to London heats up in Shanghai, and Sloane Stephens continues her quest to break into the top 10.
The Shanghai Masters features three of the four biggest names in men’s tennis, as Roger Federer returns to the tour for the first time since his fourth-round loss at the U.S. Open. He joins newly minted No. 1 Rafael Nadal and defending champion Novak Djokovic at the penultimate ATP Masters 1000 event of the season. Federer is still fighting to make the ATP World Tour Finals for the 12th straight year. With the top eight men qualifying for the season-ending event, Federer, who sits in seventh place, is bunched up with Stanislas Wawrinka, Richard Gasquet and Milos Raonic for the final few spots.
Seeded fifth, Federer has been drawn into top-seed Djokovic’s half (the draw was done before Nadal took over the No. 1 ranking), meaning the two are slated to meet in the quarterfinals. Federer, who received a first-round bye, will open against his old nemesis Lleyton Hewitt or Andreas Seppi. Federer could then face Gasquet or Gael Monfils in the third round.
Djokovic is coming off a triumphant week in Beijing, where he snapped Nadal’s 22-match winning streak and handed him his first hard-court loss of the season. He has a fairly straightforward road to the quarterfinals, where he could meet Federer, and then David Ferrer or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals, though any number of surprise semifinalists could come through that bottom quarter, which is pretty wide open.
As for Nadal, he looked mentally drained in Beijing, but his motivation will be high in Shanghai. He’s won the last four ATP Masters 1000s, and Shanghai remains one of the three current Masters events he hasn’t won (the others being the Paris Indoors and Miami). He finished as a runner-up in 2009, followed by third-round exits in 2010 and 2011. If Nadal can capture the title, he would become the first player to win six Masters titles in a season.
Nadal has a dangerous road to the final: He could face John Isner in the third round in a rematch of their Cincinnati final, then Wawrinka and either Juan Martin del Potro or Tomas Berdych in the semifinals.
Generali Ladies Linz
Sloane Stephens was supposed to be the top seed in Linz, Austria, after Petra Kvitova withdrew with a back injury. Then Angelique Kerber took a late wild card after the draw was set, becoming the No. 1 seed and causing a massive reshuffle that has made Stephens’ draw even tougher.
Stephens’s chances of qualifying for the WTA Championships in Istanbul are slim. But there’s still the matter of breaking into the top 10 before the end of the season. And if she can win Linz for her first title, she would qualify for the WTA’s secondary year-end championships, the Tournament of Champions in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Her half of the draw is littered with potentially tough opponents (four of the five qualifiers landed in Kerber’s half). The 20-year-old American opens against Magdalena Rybarikova and could face a resurgent Andrea Petkovic in the second round, Daniela Hantuchova in the quarterfinals and either Ana Ivanovic or Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinals.
Japan Women’s Open
After reaching the final of the China Open, Jelena Jankovic leads Kerber by 355 points in the race for the eighth spot at the WTA Championships. Jankovic tops the field in Osaka, where Sabine Lisicki, Sam Stosur and Flavia Pennetta round out the top four seeds.
[Updated: Jankovic has withdrawn from Osaka with a hip injury. Lisicki is now the top seed. With Jankovic inactive this week Kerber has a chance to close the gap in the race with a good performance in Linz.]
Americans Madison Keys, Varvara Lepchenko and Lauren Davis are also in the draw. Keys, seeded sixth, opens against a qualifier, while Lepchenko takes on fifth-seeded Genie Bouchard. With Bouchard fewer than 125 points ahead of Keys, there’s a fun little race developing to see who will finish the season as the highest-ranked teenager. The woman who held that distinction for most of this year, Laura Robson, will play 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm in the first round.