Less Dramatic Than It Sounds

Notwithstanding that they are collectively termed a ‘series’, the nine Masters 1000 events peppering the ATP calendar share little beyond the volume of ranking points they offer, and the fact that attendance at them is mandatory. These factors are not insignificant, and for yet another year have helped see them dominated by the top four – especially Novak Djokovic – but beyond that they really are a pretty heterogeneous collection, serving several quite disparate purposes.

Of the nine events, eight fall evenly into two distinct categories. Four – Madrid, Rome, Canada and Cincinnati – serve as lead-ups to majors, whilst another four – Indian Wells, Miami, Shanghai and Paris – function as culminations of short mini-tours themselves, with their success depending largely on the allure of location and surface respectively. They do not offer equal prize- money or prestige, and nor do they boast similar pedigree.

Astute readers will have noted that nine minus eight leaves one, and that there is a Masters event left over. The event in question is Monte Carlo, which serves no discernible purpose beyond guaranteeing Rafael Nadal’s Masters tally is augmented by at least one each year. Occurring over a month before the French Open, its value as a warm-up is questionable. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the event itself, and the location is spectacular, among the most striking in the sport. However, if space was to be created for a grass court Masters – one can hope – then the entire clay season could usefully be shifted forward a week, with Monte Carlo demoted to 500 status and run alongside Barcelona. On the other hand, tradition counts for a lot in this part of the world – the event is a venerable one – and money talks everywhere, so it is unlikely that any shift is forthcoming. But I digress.

In any case, here is the round up of the Masters 1000 ‘Series’ for 2011.

Indian Wells
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Confirmation of Andy Murray’s annual post-Australian Open slump came when he fell in straight sets to Donald Young. Ryan Harrison announced his arrival in an excellent encounter with Milos Raonic. Ivo Karlovic came within a whisker of upsetting Nadal in a third set tiebreaker. Federer lost a fraught semifinal to Djokovic and with it the No.2 ranking. Djokovic defeated Nadal for the first time in a final, outlasting the Spaniard physically. The doubles event took the show, with most of the top ten singles players participating, thereby demonstrating that the top doubles players are not necessarily the best doubles players.

Miami
Winner: Novak Djokovic
Apparently not rejuvenated by the shift from desert to swamp, Murray’s sojourn in the wilderness continued by losing to Alex Bogomolov Jnr. Plenty of other seeds tumbled early. Roddick, defending champion, fell sourly to Pablo Cuevas. Mardy Fish became the highest ranked American for the first time, and set about disavowing his status. Kevin Anderson won plenty of fans, gallant against an untouchable Djokovic. Federer and Rochus were forced onto court well after midnight, and left under an hour later. Nadal smashed Federer in the semifinal, and again fell to Djokovic in the final, and was again outlasted. There seemed to be a pattern here.

Monte Carlo
Winner: Rafael Nadal
Djokovic, still unbeaten for the year, pulled out prior to commencement, but vowed to help out with the player’s party, which was generous. Ferrer ambled through the hole he left in the draw. Nadal took the event for a record 380th time, his first title since Tokyo the year before. Murray, wounded, signalled a return from the wild, reaching the semifinals and managing one majestic set against Nadal. Federer tried out some things against Melzer in a windy quarterfinal, but none of them worked, so he lost, his first loss before the semifinals in nine months. Raonic proved he could play on clay, and Verdasco proved he couldn’t.

Madrid
Winner: Novak Djokovic
The talk of the week was altitude, and just how much of it the Spanish capital has. There’s surely an export industry there, if only to rapidly submerging Pacific islands. Djokovic defeated Nadal in the final – again – recording his first win over the world No.1 on clay. Thomaz Bellucci was the surprise semifinalist – sashaying through Murray’s quarter – where he took a set from Djokovic, which is one more than Nadal managed. The pattern we sensed in Miami turned out to be that Djokovic won every time he played.

Rome
Winner: Novak Djokovic
A return to sea level, and order was restored, except that Nadal almost lost early to Paolo Lorenzi. Soderling and Almagro fought out a classic, as did Gasquet and Federer. Both were eclipsed by the barnstorming semifinal between Murray and Djokovic, which Djokovic only salvaged in a third set tiebreak, saving match point. Utterly spent, there was little chance he’d have anything left for the final against Nadal. Except he did, and won in straight sets. The issue, clearly, was that Nadal now had no idea how to play Djokovic, who had closed to within spitting distance of the No.1 ranking. This was easily the best of the Masters events this season.

Montreal
Winner: Novak Djokovic
New No.1 Djokovic’s fifth Masters title for the season set a new record. Ivan Dodig upset Nadal early, and Anderson did the same for Murray, the defending champion. Tsonga proved his Wimbledon win over Federer wasn’t a fluke by doing it again. The story of the week was Janko Tipsarevic, a late bloomer ready to make his mark, storming to the semifinals. Mardy Fish’s strong US Summer Series continued, and he grabbed a set from Djokovic in the final.

Cincinnati
Winner: Andy Murray
Nadal and Verdasco fought out the poorest match of the year early, an encounter of such sustained subterranean quality that it almost defied belief, like the pair’s Australian Open 2009 semifinal played out in Bizarro World. Fish finished Nadal off shortly after. Overcoming early motivational issues against Monfils, Djokovic eased through to the final, as did Murray. The Scot began stronger, and took the first set. Then the weather arrived, the players left the court, and Djokovic didn’t come back. The title was Murray’s, but with the US Open a week away, the story was the Serbian’s shoulder.

Shanghai
Winner: Andy Murray
Murray capped a clean sweep through Asia with a near-effortless defence of his Shanghai title, snarling and cussing his way through any number of situations in which he was in no real danger of losing. He moved to No.3 in the rankings. Semifinal runs saw Feliciano Lopez close on the top 20 and Kei Nishikori finally realise Project 45.

Paris Indoors
Winner: Roger Federer
Federer’s first Bercy title was naturally the histoire de la semaine, with supplementary narrative provided by several precautionary retirements (Djokovic and Fish), and the improbable run of John Isner, who blew three match points in the semifinal. As ever, the legion of Frenchman fell early, barring one, who pushed through to the final. The One this time round was Tsonga. Paris also determined the final three qualifiers for the World Tour Finals – Tsonga is among them – all at the precise moment Berdych saw off a gagging Tipsarevic in the third round. It was less dramatic than it sounds.

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