Sam Maurey a.k.a. Mau Mau of the Co:Motion record label spent two years warming the bench on Amherst College's tennis team. He's still obsessed with ping pong.
This week, the Shanghai Rolex Masters is back on for it's seventh year at the Qi Zhong Tennis Center
, down in Minhang district. Tennis-wise, it's a big deal -- all of the top men's players are there competing for around 4 million USD in prize money, and it's the only Masters Series event (one tier below the four Grand Slams) outside of North America and Europe. The semi-finals are this Saturday and the final happens on Sunday. Also, Federer is already out. He lost his first match, but he did get to meet Michael Jordan.
Walking through the gates of the Tennis Center, the first thing you see is either the massive Stadium with its impressive retractable roof, or the Djokovic and Nadal selfie-stands and their attendant selfie-mobs.
The venue feels very un-Shanghai, though for how far you travel, it might as well be Hangzhou or Suzhou. The area is quiet, peaceful, and clean. Birds are flying overhead, the air seems less polluted than downtown, and there's not a crushed pack of Double Happiness or pile of sunflower seed shells in sight. The food and drink situation was a pleasant surprise, with Element Fresh sandwiches for 35-40rmb, soft drinks for 15rmb, and cold cans of Heineken for 20rmb. Pricier pizza and Haagen-Dazs were also available inside the Stadium.
Over on Unionpay Court 3, the bao'an were letting people in at all the wrong times, instead of only during changeovers. This led to an older French referee attempting to plead with the 90% local crowd to take their seats and be quiet so play between Richard Gasquet and Vasek Popasil could continue. It felt like a stewardess when an airplane touches down in Pudong trying to get passengers to sit back down until the seat belt signs turn off. In general, though, the crowd was respectful and enthusiastic, clearly following the flow of each match and sporting flags for and chasing autographs from even lesser-known players.
Unionpay Court 3
Despite the ease of entry, Court 3 was nearly empty, which, while a bit sad for the players, makes for great spectating. We found perfect seats, just above court-level behind the baseline. If you haven't been to a professional tennis tournament, from that angle you get such a better impression of the athleticism of the players, the spin and incredible pace they hit each shot with. It's something that just doesn't translate with the angle TV cameras have to use to capture the whole court, and can make watching even relatively unknown players or a lopsided match a captivating experience.
At the Stadium court, we caught the end of Djokovic's easy victory and warmly received "wo ai nimen
" in his post-match interview. The inside was impressive, with a massive lighting array and sound system, giving it movie-theater feeling of spectacle. The space is big, but even from our seats towards the top there was a decent view of the court (unlike Arthur Ashe Stadium at the U.S. Open, where from halfway up you feel like you're watching ants). The a/v system launched into a twenty-minute barrage of advertisements and movie trailers, but the fans -- it was more than half full in here -- kept their seats, awaiting the night's final match featuring Rafael Nadal.
As for keeping track of what's going on, while the draw and the venue map are prominently displayed, if you're looking to track scores of other matches or figure out who is playing where when, definitely download the tournament app, or check the official real-time website
. Real-time scores were hardly displayed onsite, and we finally found the order of play on an A4 sheet of paper tacked to a distant information stand.
On the whole, the Rolex Masters is worth the trip. It feels like a getaway from downtown Shanghai, the organization is relatively tight, and it's a rare chance to see some of the world's best players competing close-up.
An Update On The Matches
: Second seed and China favorite Roger Federer went down in his first match, which will probably affect the turnout, but most of the other top seeds remain. Look out for a possible semifinal featuring Djokovic and Andy Murray on October 17, the Scotsman being one of the few players seeming to stand a chance against the top-ranked Serbian, having beat him nine times in their twenty-eight match rivalry. Eighth seed Rafael Nadal, having barely survived a three-set marathon last night, would face Stan Wawrinka in the quarterfinals (on the 16th), while Japanese Ken Nishikori stands the favorite in Federer's part of the draw. We're pulling for a Nadal-Djokovic battle in the final on October 18.
: For the first time in the tournament's history, all of the tickets are sold out. Don't worry if you haven't got one, though, as a cloud of pushy huangniu
outside the main gate will happily hook you up. They had tickets available for 400rmb pre-bargaining, and said that cheaper tickets may be available on Thursday and Friday (though expect higher prices for the semi-finals and finals on Saturday and Sunday). On our visit, the Grandstand and Court 3 were sparsely attended, which meant good seats were easy to find (assigned seating is only in the largest Stadium court)
: Getting there on public transport will take a while. The tournament website says a shuttle bus leaves from the South Square of Xinzhuang station at the south end of Line 1. It's actually a poorly marked regular city bus in the middle of a cloud of buses; it took ten minutes of wandering to spot the small sign beside it. The bus gets to the tournament in about 45 minutes for 2rmb. We were lucky to snag seats. You could also transfer to Line 5 at Xinzhuang, then get off three stops later at Zhuanqiao and take a quick cab. A taxi from the Xinzhuang station will cost 60-80rmb and shave about half an hour off the trip. From downtown, you're looking at least 150rmb.
: A previous version of this article referred to Andy Murray as American. He is in fact Scottish.