China Open 2018: All eyes on Juan Martin Del Potro and Alexander Zverev in absence of Novak Djokovic
What could have been an exciting tournament to follow to see the No. 1 world ranking changing hands would now be important for the purpose of awarding qualifying berths for the ATP World Tour Finals in London. Novak Djokovic was rumoured to have been bestowed with a wild card, which would have presented him with a priceless opportunity of wresting away the numero uno ranking from Rafael Nadal.
But the Serb, fresh from his exploits at the US Open and the Laver Cup, chose rest and recovery in order to challenge for more glory in the end part of the season. Djokovic traditionally excels in this part of the season, and a hiatus of a few days would inject him with the vigour and the vitality he needs for the next two Masters 1000 events as well as the year-ending championships.
With his sagacious decision to turn down a wildcard at Beijing, Rafa’s ranking for now is safe, at least for a week.
In the absence of the defending champion Nadal and former six-time winner Djokovic, all the attention will thus be on Juan Martin del Potro and Alexander Zverev. Del Potro returns to action for the first time since losing the final in New York to Djokovic and has received the top seeding at this ATP 500 tournament.
In a memorable year that has seen him lift his first Masters title and reach his second Slam final, the Argentine would be gunning to seal his World Tour Finals berth in Beijing itself.
The World No. 3 is third in the ATP Race to London and is next in line to qualify, with two spots having already been sealed by Nadal and Djokovic, and the third spot going to Federer through Grand Slam win rule.
Reaching the final at the Chinese capital will see Del Potro secure his place in London for the first time since 2013. Del Potro begins his campaign against Albert Ramos-Vinolas. The talented Karen Khachanov is up next for him, on overcoming whom the veteran Feliciano Lopez could be waiting.
The fourth seeded Fabio Fognini, seeded fourth at this event, looks most likely to be his opponent in the semi-finals. That could be tricky as the Italian has been building form and confidence throughout the year. With three titles in the bag and a runner-up finish at Chengdu, he finds himself in the 11th place in the Race to London.
They are also tied 1-1 in their head-to-head meetings with the Italian triumphing in their most recent showdown at the Los Cabos final this year. If he can overcome the stiff resistance from Fognini, he could square off with the second seed Zverev or third seed Grigor Dimitrov or fifth seed Kyle Edmund in the summit clash.
Zverev is fifth in line to qualify
Zverev returns to the ATP World Tour since his third round defeat in Flushing Meadows and subsequent Laver Cup commitment. Even though he has improved by leaps and bounds, as validated by his three title wins this year, the road in Beijing could be one full of thorns. The young German begins his challenge against Roberto Bautista Agut and then could face Malek Jaziri.
Fernando Verdasco, who made it to Shenzen semi-finals last week, could be one dangerous opponent to tackle in the quarter-finals. Last year’s semi-finalist Dimitrov or Edmund will likely take on Zverev, should he make it to through to the last-four.
Zverev is currently fifth in line to qualify for London and that should give him enough impetus to perform with gusto in Beijing and strengthen his position for a spot in the best-eight.