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Rafael Nadal: How Does His Loss in Shangai Impact the Season and the Game?

Eduardo AfiniContributor IIIOctober 13, 2011

SHANGHAI, CHINA - OCTOBER 12:  Rafael Nadal of Spain chases down a drop shot while playing Guillermo Garcia-Lopez of Spain during the Shanghai Rolex Masters at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center on October 12, 2011 in Shanghai, China.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Asian part of the ATP Tour, which happens after the US Open every year, provides an opportunity for players who are still in the run for the Masters Cup or for those seeking to accumulate points and improve their rankings. The top players are usually tired and historically tend to perform below their best capacity.

Both Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic pulled out of the Masters 1000 of Shanghai, and today Rafael Nadal was ousted by Florian Mayer in the third round. Nadal’s loss opens up the way for a few players who are in his half of the draw.

Mayer is a 28-year-old German who had never played Nadal before and is currently ranked No. 23 in the world. Being in the latter half of his career, this could have been his biggest win and something he will proudly tell his grandchildren some day. The key factor to this win was the 29 winners he hit against 19 from Nadal.

Tomas Berdych is the player ranked No. 6 on run for the final four and can really benefit from Nadal's defeat, provided he beats Feliciano Lopes in his third-round match. It can really be a breather facing Mayer in the quarterfinal instead of the top-seeded Spaniard, and he should leave Shanghai with a birth secured for London.

Andy Roddick, who was apparently out of the race, took a big step today by beating the aspiring Nicolas Almagro, who is ninth in the race to London. Although Andy faces the tough and already qualified David Ferrer in the quarters, Nadal’s loss should give him some extra energy to go further in Shanghai and fight for one of final eight spots.

The biggest question Mayer's victory over Nadal raises, however, concerns the debate of the moment in tennis: is the schedule really tough on the top players, and are they right to complain?

It is fair to analyze the matter from two different angles—the top players' perspective and the lower-ranked players' situation.

Ultimately, the players are the only ones who really feel the burden of competing so much. The top players are right in their efforts to make themselves heard. Concern with their health and having decent time to prepare for the next season is legitimate. As we know, the men’s pro tour does not have something that could be called an offseason, or even a preseason for that matter.

On the other hand, the less top players compete, the less sponsors will be willing to invest in tennis, and the less people will buy tickets for the events. As we can see on TV, there have been nothing but empty seats in China this week.

This would could lead to fewer tournaments and fewer opportunities for the lower-ranked players. What is not shown on TV and is rarely addressed by the media is that the great majority of the players are the ones who could really use more support and really struggle to make a decent living out of the profession.

It is nevertheless an interesting cycle. There was a time, before the Open Era was established in 1968, when top players would fight to be accepted on the tour, as they were not allowed to compete in the major events. Now they don’t want to play as much.

The challenge for the ATP and ITF is to come up with a balanced solution, in which everyone would benefit, and this is perhaps the single most difficult thing to accomplish in any area of life.

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