Second leg of the Asian swing supposed to bea comfortable warm-up for Andy Murray  and Novak Djokovic  before Shanghai. Murray was unexpectedly beaten in Tokyo though, by a player he had demolished last month in New York – Milos Raonic. The Canadian drew conclusions from that loss, stunning Murray in Japan with much more better shots from the backhand side, and snapping his 21-match winning streak in Asia and 10-set tie-break winning streak. Raonic, who’d saved match points in two consecutive rounds, perhaps was mentally exhausted as he entered the 3rd set of the final against Kei Nishikori . The Japanese strongly supported by local fans turned Raonic’s biggest weapon – the serve – into a mediocre shot breaking him thrice without special involvement, it was simply an excellent class of anticipation and clean striking. The youngest final of the season mixed up both youngsters with a few other guys in the race for London. Nishikori’s 2nd ATP title, separated three and a half years from the first one (Delray Beach)… In contrary to Murray, Djokovic didn’t disappoint in Beijing, improving his perfect record at the China Open to 14-0. He outplayed all opponents en route to the 32nd title (four consecutive matches began with a 6-1 opener); admittedly he lost one set, in the first round to Michael Berrer, but two other sets of that match won easily anyway. The Serb is extremely motivated because he has very good shot at finishing second straight year as the best player in the world. It would be an amazing accomplishment, many multiple Grand Slam champions (with Rafael Nadal and Andre Agassi in particular) have never done it. Djokovic hasn’t almost any points to defend in the upcoming weeks because last year at the same period of the season he was struggling with a back injury, so his rivalry with Roger Federer in the last five weeks of the 2012 season looks like a fascinating prospect.
It was a bit weird for me that the most populous country in the world (China) and a very ambitious one, couldn’t produce at least one good player through many years. Even though racquet sports aren’t alien there (Chinese players are the best in table-tennis and badminton), the tournament in Beijing has been held since 1993 (with a break in years 1998-2003), Shanghai – in different configurations since 1996. Moreover there is plenty of tournaments at lower levels in Asia which allow Chinese players to gather important points. 22-year-old Ze Zhang  has finally took advantage of it becoming the highest ranked Chinese in history (the first one who is able to participate in qualifying rounds at majors). This week he made another milestone becoming the first man from China to advance to an ATP “500” quarterfinal (Bing Pan was a semifinalist in Seoul in 1995 – equivalent of today’s “250” tournaments), and the first one having beaten a notable opponent (Zhang stunned Richard Gasquet in the second round). Very likely it’s the beginning of something bigger which may come to fruition next decade.
Tokyo (500) S: (8)Kei Nishikori d. (6)Milos Raonic 7-6(5), 3-6, 6-0 D: (4)A.Peya/B.Soares d. (1)L.Paes/R.Stepanek 6-3, 7-6(5)
Beijing (500) S: (1)Novak Djokovic d. (3)Jo Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(3), 6-2 D: (1)B.Bryan/M.Bryan d. C.Berlocq/D.Istomin 6-3, 6-2
Choker of the week: Andy Murray in Tokyo’s semifinal. The Scot led 4:1* (30/0) in the 3rd set against Milos Raonic, later on he had two match points at 6:5, on the second one he missed an easy backhand. Raonic won 6-3, 6-7, 7-6. It’s Murray’s fifth straight loss in the deciding 3rd set tie-break, he stills has a positive record in this department though (11-7).