The Hottest Storylines in Men's Tennis for the Week of September 30
The hottest storylines this week in men's tennis are upset, upset, upset.
Joao Sousa upended Julien Benneteau to snatch his first title. Sousa also beat David Ferrer. Milos Raonic crushed Tomas Berdych.
Upset, upset, upset.
Perhaps equally upsetting to fans of the top players is the continued absence of former world No. 1 Roger Federer. The Swiss superstar has taken off a significant amount of time since the U.S. Open which had ended disappointingly for him. Now he finds himself struggling just to qualify for the year-end World Tour Finals.
Finally, as most attention is drawn towards the tour's end, Rafael Nadal shows there is more to fight for than just one tournament. He looks to take over the top spot in the rankings after the China Open.
The week ahead should be full of intrigue and lots of excitement.
Roger Federer's Hiatus Continues
The next time that Roger Federer steps onto a tennis court, it will be October 6, and he will be playing doubles.
That is not a typographical error.
The little-seen Swiss champion has not played an ATP tour event since his upset loss to Tommy Robredo at the U.S. Open. He is now ranked No. 6 in the world, and he is precariously perched in the race to London's tour finals.
So, he will play doubles at the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
Perhaps he is taking a page out of John McEnroe's playbook. The great lefty didn't like to practice, according to legend, and chose to play doubles to hone his game, says longtime partner Peter Fleming.
Zhang Ze will be Federer's Fleming this week. As he has only played doubles once this year, it is hard to see this arrangement as anything other than necessary practice for Federer.
It is doubtful that he suddenly has an interest in the two-player game. Win or lose with Ze, all eyes will be on Federer's return to the singles side of things.
By the end of the Shanghai event, one thing should be much clearer: Roger Federer will know whether or not he should be reserving a flight to London.
Joao Sousa Wins Malaysian Open
Who is Joao Sousa?
The winner of the 2013 Malaysian Open. Surely, world No. 23 Julien Benneteau knew the answer to that question. The Frenchman fell 6-2, 5-7, 4-6, becoming the first player ever to meet Sousa, let alone fall to him, in any tour final.
Sousa also became the very first Portuguese player to win a title on the ATP tour.
Easily the most important statistic of the match was Sousa's ability to stave off break points, saving six of the eight he faced. Unfortunately for Benneteau, one of those opportunities came on match point. Already down a set, Sousa was on the brink, 30-40, 4-5.
Sousa spoke about the match, per atpworldtour.com:
I just gave my best, it was a tough shot there, I just went for it and it went in...Tennis is like this, if you don't go for it, you'll never make it, so I just went for it. We both played a great match. He had a lot of chances to win.
DNAIndia.com described Sousa as "unheralded," saying his week was a "fairytale run."
Fans of the 24-year-old hope he continues this dream for years to come.
David Ferrer's Struggles Continue
David Ferrer is still ranked No. 4 in the world.
That is about the best thing that can be said for the year he is having. He continues to lose to players ranked well below him. The latest loss came in Malaysia to upstart Joao Sousa, the No. 77 player in the world.
The staff at ATPWorldTour.com ran the headline "Sousa Shocks Ferrer" on September 27. Really, though, is this truly a shock?
Ferrer's last six losses have now been to players ranked beneath him. The last time he lost a match in expected fashion—falling to a higher seed—came all the way back at Roland Garros to Rafael Nadal.
It is a wonder that Ferrer has managed to hold on to his spot and have the Barclay's World Tour Finals to look forward to. The good news?
He is much more likely to lose to a better player there.
Milos Raonic Upsets Tomas Berdych
Milos Raonic won 95 percent of his first serves against Tomas Berdych in the finals of the Thailand Open.
As a result, he won the title fairly easily.
Undoubtedly, however, Raonic must see this win only as a means to an end. The victory in Bangkok moves him slightly closer to a berth in the year-end Barclay's World Tour Finals.
He is now only 180 points behind No. 10 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the race to London. Though he is running out of time, Raonic does have the opportunity to make up the gap, as both he and Tsonga are playing in Tokyo this week.
He must be somewhat optimistic.
In 2012, the Canadian defeated No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic and No. 3 Andy Murray on the way to a runner-up result in Tokyo. A repeat—or better—performance would put him in position to slide into the last slot for the year's finale.
Especially since Richard Gasquet and Stanislas Wawrinka, who both stand between Raonic and that opportunity, won't be in Tokyo.
Rafael Nadal Poised to Grab No. 1
Entering this week, Rafael Nadal is not No. 1 in the world.
At the end of the week, however, he could be.
In fact, it looks likely that the 13-time Grand Slam champion will be at the top once more after the China Open. The odds are stacked against Novak Djokovic, and the scenarios favor Nadal.
Djokovic needs to defend his 500 ATP tour points by winning the title this week. Anything less and he will fall to No. 2. Additionally, if Nadal reaches the final, he will get to No. 1 regardless. Therefore, Djokovic understands that being a three-time champion of the China Open is old news. Only being a four-time winner matters at this point.
That is tremendous pressure, even for a No. 1 player.
There is also the not-so-little matter of the recent playing history between the two. Nadal has won six of the last seven meetings, including their last two matches on hard courts.
Nadal fans everywhere must be looking forward to this week.