Frankly this chunk of the tennis calendar, known as the “Asian swing” because it passes through China and Japan, is the easiest to tune out, especially for a viewer in a U.S. time zone. The year’s last major just wrapped up, the year-end finals are still months away, and the time difference makes it forbiddingly hard for the American viewer to follow live. That said: There is some appetizing tennis lined up at the China Open this weekend, whether or not your eyeballs happen to be open to watch it.
The first semifinal is Grigor Dimitrov versus Rafael Nadal, which might as well be a cute, cheaper-tickets version of marquee Fed versus Rafa. Last time these two met, at the Australian Open semifinal, they gave us a five-set barnburner, one of the year’s finest matches. (It’d have a more obvious claim if only it weren’t smothered by the final, one of the great matches ever.) In that semifinal, Baby Fed nearly won and laid so a clear blueprint for what his idol would eventually do in the finals—hewing close to the baseline, stepping up and thumping the one-handed backhand—that you almost had to wonder if Large Fed watched the match as a scouting report.
After his frenzied start to the year, Dimitrov seemed poised for a breakout season, but it never fully materialized; he fell short at all three majors after Australia. He did still win the biggest title of his career in Cincinnati, albeit after a cakewalk. Nadal—hot off his Open win and, depending on the state of Federer’s back, possibly still the best tennis player living—will challenge him to finish his frustrating season strong.
After those two duel all through the wee hours on the East Coast, we might wake up to my single favorite matchup in tennis at the moment, the Moody Man-Children semifinal.
A lot has happened since this blog. Kyrgios surprised everyone by locking in for a sweet week in Ohio—eating ice cream daily, playing pickup hoops, yawning through a straight-sets win over Nadal—to make his first Masters final, where he lost to Dimitrov. He then faceplanted in the first round of the U.S. Open while reconfiguring his racket frames and repurposing the courtside chair as a therapy chaise lounge. Nick looked sincerely engaged at the Laver Cup, taking Fed to a decisive tiebreak, but that strikes me like a pretty useless indicator for his singles performance. Almost exactly a year removed from his infamous tanking episode, which earned him tens of thousands of dollars in fines and weeks of suspension, I can’t claim to have much more insight into the consistency of his motivation. But he has said “it’s easy to get up” for a big-time opponent.
Zverev, nominally his rival, offers one such matchup. Perhaps overstated as a U.S. Open favorite, the anointed Next Big Thing has looked spotty towards the tail end of 2017. He lost to the still-raw Frances Tiafoe in Cincinnati, lost in the second round of the U.S. Open to Borna Coric, then lost to world No. 40 Damir Dzumhur last week. He’s still bound for the ATP Finals, where Nick is very unlikely to join him, but they’ll get one last duel before going their separate ways: one to the highest tier of the sport, and the other, perhaps, to a milkshake.