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Nadal retakes world No. 1 spot ahead ...of Masters

SHANGHAI ― He has finally clawed his way back to the top, and Rafael Nadal is riding the momentum of his newly reclaimed status as the world’s No. 1 tennis player into the Shanghai Rolex Masters series this week.

Rafa returns Monday to the top of the ATP rankings for the first time since July 2011, after he prevailed in the China Open semifinal in Beijing on Saturday as Tomas Berdych retired in the first set with a back injury.

The Spaniard’s crown was secure regardless of the outcome of the final Sunday afternoon against his rival, Novak Djokovic, who has been bumped to world No. 2.

But with no time to bask in his victories, Nadal is headed straight to Shanghai, where the fifth edition of the Shanghai Rolex Masters wrapped up qualifiers and kicked off its first-round matches, also on Sunday.

In the lively first main draw match of the tournament, the Czech Republic’s Lukas Rosol (No. 46) defeated France’s Julien Benneteau (No. 32) 6-3, 1-6, 6-3 with a combination of clever return plays and 200-kph power serves.

Nine of the ATP’s top 10 singles players are set to contend this week, with 2012 Shanghai title holder Djokovic in the top half, along with third-seeded David Ferrer, No. 5 Roger Federer and the crowd-pleasing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at No. 7. The top eight seeds received first-round byes and will join in the round of 32 later this week.

“It is always a tough draw here because it is always such a strong tournament, being an ATP Masters 1000,” said Federer at the draw ceremony on Saturday. “I have been coming to Shanghai almost every year since 2002 and this is one of my favorite tournaments of the year, and we look forward to a good week.”

On the other side, Nadal could end up in a quarterfinal against eighth-seeded Stanislas Wawrinka or Thailand Open champion Milos Raonic ― who fell to Shanghai-No. 6 seed Juan Martin del Potro in two sets in the Rakuten Japan Open final on Sunday ― if they hold their ground in the early rounds.

If Djokovic and Nadal both make it to the final, they would go head to head for the 39th time, and the second time in a week following Sunday’s battle in Beijing.

The only Korean contender, Jun Woong-sun (world No. 935), was defeated by Colombian Alejandro Falla in a three-set, best-of-three qualifier on Saturday. Falla went on to topple Taiwan’s Lu Yen-hsun in two sets in their second qualifier on Sunday.

By Elaine Ramirez, Korea Herald correspondent

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