Rafael Nadal Shanghai loss ensures Novak Djokovic number 1 position for 2011 – The Friday Five

By Maud Watson

Significant Loss

In case you missed it in Thursday’s tennis headlines, Rafael Nadal suffered a shock straight-sets defeat to German Florian Mayer. While it is possible we’re witnessing a breakdown in the Nadal aura, it’s not the earth-shattering loss some fans have proposed. Nadal has historically struggled during the fall and exited Shanghai at the same stage last year. But this loss was still a significant one in that it officially ensures that Novak Djokovic will end 2011 as the No. 1 ranked player – the first player not named Federer or Nadal to end in the top spot since Andy Roddick in 2003. But Nadal will still be keen to gain on Djokovic as 2011 winds down in an effort to reclaim the coveted ranking in 2012.

Rafael Nadal

Difficult to Weigh

Before the Shanghai Masters got underway, there was some chatter about Andy Murray’s victory in Tokyo this past weekend. It marked his second successive tournament win, but what made it so impressive was that he secured it by coming from a set down against Nadal, trouncing the Spaniard 6-0 in the third. It was a big win for Murray, because it came against the No. 2 player in the world, whom he had lost to the last five times they played. But there wasn’t a huge fuss about the result. Many saw Murray’s victory as having more to do with the psychological damage Djokovic has inflicted on Nadal this season rather than the Scot’s superior play. But that interpretation sells Murray short. There’s no doubt he played one of the best match of his career this past Sunday. But we’ve seen this song and dance before. He’s had the big wins. He’s shown he has the game and the smarts to defeat the best on any surface on any given day. But until he gets a major under his belt, this win is just another one of those breathtaking moments that leaves many a Murray fan begging the question that if he can produce this kind of tennis in Tokyo, why not on the game’s biggest stages?

Making her Move

In an era filled with what Mary Carillo has termed “big babe tennis,” it’s nice to see that there’s still some room for court craft and guile. This season it comes in the form of diminutive Pole Aggie Radwanska. Like Murray on the men’s side, Radwanska also won her second title in two weeks, winning Beijing over German Andrea Petkovic. It was a big match for the two players, as with the WTA Championships looming and only one spot in the field remaining, whoever won in China would be firmly in the driver’s seat to claim that coveted final berth. In the end, it was ultimately Aggie who proved the steadier of the two, finding a way to bounce back from an 0-6 second set to beat Petkovic. The win put her ahead of Petkovic and into that 8th spot. With Petkovic being forced to withdraw from Linz with a knee injury, the only player who can potentially stand in Radwanska’s way is Marion Bartoli, and there’s an awful lot that has to go right for Bartoli to snatch that spot away from the Pole. With injuries and the up and down nature of the women’s game right now, Radwanska might just find a way to use those WTA Championships to greater success in the majors, much the same way Amelie Mauresmo did.

Cart before the Horse

It seems like only yesterday we heard how the players were all going to get together in Shanghai and discuss how they were going to force change on the men’s tennis circuit. Now here we are, and nothing is happening. While Roddick remains fairly vocal, Murray and Nadal are backing off the initial bluntness of their prior statements. In seeing how this is all unfolding, it’s difficult to not feel that these players may not have put the proverbial cart before the horse. They rightfully agreed and realized that it would have been foolish to try and have a meeting without Federer and Djokovic present. They also seemed to concede that it would be difficult to get all the guys together for such a pow-wow, which may be a prime example of why tennis has never really had a union the same way other major sports have – individual players like to set their own schedules with their own individual priorities. It seems fans are growing more disgruntled with the complaints, too, as evidenced by the reaction of many when Nadal came out with a gripe about the number of ball changes during the Asian swing. The reality is that these players have brought up some good points and changes need to be made, but as they are realizing, they would be best served to avoid airing out their issues until they’re organized and ready to present viable solutions. Otherwise, it’s just going to come across as sour grapes from a handful of players bitter about the way their seasons have transpired.

Magic of a Major

As the Asian swing is underway and the players and fans are treated to some spectacular state-of-the art facilities, the annual talk of a fifth major somewhere in Asia has begun. But I was happy with Brad Drewitt’s comments, stating he thought it unlikely such a scenario would unfold. As great as the tennis boom in Asia is, having a major there would feel wrong. The Slams are where they are, because those were the first four countries to win the Davis Cup. They have some of the deepest roots in tennis history, and they’ve earned the right to be among the most elite through decades of endurance. Besides, unless there’s a way to sandwich it between the Australian Open and Roland Garros (unlikely), do you really want to ask the players to compete at a fifth major in the fall when many are citing fatigue and figuring out how to tackle the next season?