Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The Shanghai Masters celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. In five of the nine previous stagings, the title has gone to either Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic – the top two seeds in 2018.
The duo lead the outright betting but what you can say against them is both players come in pretty cold – this will be their first appearance on the ATP World Tour since the US Open, although both did play in the Laver Cup.
Federer is the defending champion and the conditions – fast court, cooler weather – should certainly be a lot more in his favour than they were that steamy night in New York when he was stunned by John Millman. That defeat left plenty of questions and while I wouldn’t read too much into it, it will certainly be interesting to see how he gets on against Daniil Medvedev in his opening match (provided the Russian wins in round one). At time of writing, the talented Medvedev is due to contest the Tokyo final.
Of the top two, preference is for Djokovic, the man who has won Wimbledon and the US Open in recent months, as well as the Masters event in Cincinnati. That’s a highly impressive run, one reminiscent of his peak years of 2014 and 2015. In addition, he now has the motivation of chasing the year-end number-one spot.
His record here is very impressive. In all seven appearances at the tournament, Djokovic has made at least the semis, winning the title in 2012, 2013 and 2015. He was also champion at the season-ending Masters Cup in 2008, held at the same venue.
In short, there could well be value in the 9/4 being quoted.
A potential chink in the armour could be a third-round meeting with Gilles Simon, another player who loves playing in Shanghai. He famously beat Federer here in the 2008 Masters Cup en route to the last four. More recently, he was a semi-finalist in 2016 and runner-up in 2014.
The Frenchman is in decent form having lifted the title in Metz last month and although he lost in the first round in Tokyo last week, it was a very tight battle with Alex de Minaur which he could easily have won.
Admittedly, Djokovic leads Simon 11-1 but their matches are also usually very tight – three of their last four (plus three others) have gone to a final set. He gives the Serb little to work with and if Djokovic is a tad rusty, Simon could take advantage. He’s worth some small change at 100/1.
Back in the top half, the obvious alternatives to Federer can have holes picked in them.
Juan Martin Del Potro has been to the Beijing final in the run-up to this event and now has a very tough draw, including Tokyo semi-finalist Richard Gasquet potentially first up. Nick Kyrgios or Stan Wawrinka could well follow with Dominic Thiem his scheduled quarter-final foe. I’ll avoid.
Del Potro’s body may not stand up the rigours of two tough weeks of tennis and the same can be said of Kei Nishikori, whose main aim on the Asian swing was probably Tokyo where he’s due to contest the final.
Wawrinka is an interesting 33/1 shot. He’s not back to his best yet but is improving all the time, as results show. He beat Grigor Dimitrov at the US Open, took down seeds Karen Khachanov and Damir Dzumhur to reach the St Petersburg semis and last week lost a tight one to Denis Shapovalov in Tokyo.
This might just be the week when things click and the price is tempting.
For those who like a real long shot, you could do worse than back 200/1 Matt Ebden, a player who should go well in the quick conditions.
The Australian has made two ATP quarter-finals on hardcourts of late and was just a tie-break away from beating Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson last week. This is certainly a step up but he’ll be an awkward customer for seed Dominic Thiem if they meet in round two and could make some waves in this section of the draw with his aggressive tactics.
Probably the best bet is to back him to beat Thiem but for now some small change at 200/1 is worth considering.
Novak Djokovic to win 9/4
Gilles Simon each way 100/1
Stan Wawrinka each way 33/1
Matt Ebden each way 200/1