Shanghai Rolex Masters

Today marks the final day of the Shanghai Rolex Masters, an ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournament. Shanghai has been hosting this tournament since 2009 and is one of nine Masters 1000 tournaments during the tennis season. These high level tournaments are ranked 3rd in prestige after the 4 Grand Slam tournaments and the ATP World Finals at the end of the year. Shanghai’s tournament has won tournament of the year for 3 years running and this year was able to draw the numbers 1, 2, and 3 players in the world, an impressive feat for any tournament aside from the slams. 

I couldn’t have picked a better year to catch the tournament. This year was special in tennis. Each of the top 4 ranked players won a grand slam, and Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are in a dead-even race for the number 1 ranking. The Shanghai Masters is the last tournament of the year before the finals in which only the top 8 players qualify. This resulted in an incredible draw and a great opportunity for me to attend my first tennis tournament.

Saturday, the first day, was filled with qualifying matches and was free to the public. My tennis partner Zhaoxin accompanied me along the long journey from Tonghe into Minhang District where the beautifully architected Qi Zhong Stadium. Our 2 hour journey consisted of riding the MTR to Xinzhuang Station at the end of line 1 and then taking one of the tournament’s FedEx sponsored shuttles another 30 minutes to the isolated tennis complex. My only complaint of the tournament, with the last matches of the day beginning no earlier than 8pm, leaving early still resulted in returning home past 11:30pm.

Arriving in this tennis wonderland the first day was everything I had hoepd for from a tennis tournament. There are 21 courts in the whole park with center court housed in Qi Zhong stadium perhaps the second most beautiful stadium I’ve ever seen to Lambeau Field. The stadium has 8 rotating pedals resembling a blooming magnolia flower that also rotate as retractable roofs. Aimlessly walking towards a court, I stumbled upon American John Isner just after a practice. Finding some of my favorite players from a little wandering became a common practice during my 5 days attending the tournament. In total, I was able to see 17 of the top 20 players in the world practice and/or play and for a few of those players, perhaps my last opportunity to ever see them compete.

A truly international sport, Shanghai acts a perfect backdrop for a tennis tournament. Although the universal language for the tournament is English, many of the chair umpires from all over the world brushed up on a few key phrases. At every match, I had the pleasure of listening to Germans, French, and Americans asking the ball people for qiu (balls) and maojin (towel) and the crowd to qing zuo xia (please sit down) and qing guan shou ji (please turn off cell phones) in very thick accents. Appreciative snickers from the Chinese audience always followed their valiant attempts. My favorite Chinese influence of the whole tournament however is Qi Zhong’s way of honoring their former tournament winners, dating back to 2005. Each winner is enshrined with a personalized statue clothed Chinese warrior garb creating an unique clashing of cultures.

As I write this post, Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Andy Murray of England are in the midst of a great finals match that has been receiving praise as one of the greatest matches of the year in live comments by those in the tennis world. Shanghai is deserving of such a great tournament and they have responded to the responsibility in unprecedented fashion. The fans are respectful, yet enthusiastic and the venues are clean and elegant. Players have continually cited the Shanghai Masters as one of their favorite and most respected tournaments of the year and I couldn’t have been more spoiled by my first tennis tournament.