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Federer, Zhang dominate doubles in Shanghai

Wu and all Chinese qualifiers out as wild cards fall early, but Zhang shows promise

SHANGHAI -- Roger Federer and his teammate Zhang Ze, China’s top male singles player, dominated center court Monday night at the Shanghai Rolex Masters to defeat South Africa’s Kevin Anderson and Russia’s Dmitry Tursunov in a swift, high-intensity first-round doubles match that ended 6-2, 6-1.

In just 47 minutes, the clear fan favorites showcased the prowess of the 17-time Grand Slam-winning Swiss legend and the 23-year-old Chinese rising star, who held his own from the first shot to the last.

Zhang scored the first point with a clean return near the sideline, then followed up with a series of quick attacks in the first set to ensure that it wasn’t a fluke. He demonstrated his control at the back court, returning long shots effortlessly, delivering varied shots and returning 200-kph serves as the Federer-Zhang duo maintained harmony with each other’s play.

While the opposing team put up several fights that pulled Federer and Zhang both to the front court in long rallies, Federer’s signature attacks at the net and strong communication and camaraderie with his partner helped them win the first set in 24 minutes.

“I’ve been looking forward to this day for a long time,” Federer said in a press conference following the match. “He’s coming up and he’s playing really good. … He could not have played any better today.”

Federer enjoys particular fandom in China, where he is known for his affinity for the country and its language. He is seen playing an active role in promoting tennis in the region, where the talent pool is smaller than in the West. At the Shanghai Rolex Masters -- the only ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Asia -- the only Korean contender Jun Woong-sun was defeated in qualifiers on Saturday. Japan’s Tatsuma Ito (No. 160) and Go Soeda (No. 119) survived the second qualifying round Sunday, against Indian 11th-seeded Somdev Devvarman and American 14th-seeded Ryan Harrison, respectively. Ito entered the first round Monday against France’s Gael Monfils (No. 42). Kei Nishikori, seeded 12th, will meet Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria on Tuesday.

All six Chinese singles players in the qualifiers, including four wild card picks, were defeated Saturday.

But with Federer and Zhang’s win, they could potentially face off in a tough semifinal against top-ranked doubles team Mike and Bob Bryan, who have won 10 titles so far this year.

“Clearly it would be amazing to have this country have a rising star,” he said. “It’s just about hard work and maybe (Zhang) could do it in the next couple of years.

“By having all the top players come to Shanghai, I think that’s gonna help (promote tennis in Asia),” said Federer. “I think we all want something in a big way in the next 10, 20 years here.”

The performance was a stark contrast to that of world No. 243 Wu Di, the first of China’s three main-draw wild cards to play, who on Sunday fell to No. 41 German Florian Mayer, 6-3, 6-3, in the first round on center court at Qi Zhong Stadium.

In the 68-minute match, Wu never had a break point opportunity, plagued by errors from the baseline and unable to counter Mayer’s forays to net.

It was the second time the pair faced off, having met here in 2009 when Mayer also won in straight sets, 6-0, 6-2.

“We played each other in the past. He knew me. I’ve also seen many of his matches. I also know him. But I don’t think I performed as well as I expected today,” Wu said at a press conference following the match. “From the first point to the last point, it was the same: a lot of rallies, then he had the winning shot. I think I’ll have to work harder.”

At 3-3 this year to date, Wu’s track record was much shorter than his opponent’s 26-23. In January he became the first Chinese male player to play at the main draw of the Australian Open, but lost to No. 74 Croatian Ivan Dodig in four sets in the first round. Wu arrived in Shanghai fresh off a three-set loss at the China Open in Beijing against No. 8-ranked American John Isner.

“Today I had a brand new experience in the center court. This is the first time I had an official match there. I was a little bit nervous. I was not very steady. I was not psychologically prepared for today’s match,” Wu said. “Talking about the changes over the past several years, my ranking has been going up, but there have also been setbacks and difficult times. I think I’m still on the rise and I think I can do better in the future.”

Mayer won 71 percent of his service points and broke serve three times to claim his 27th win of the season, joining fellow Sunday victors Czech Lukas Rosol, Argentine Carlos Berlocq and Spaniard Pablo Andujar in advancing to the second round.

“(Wu) has improved a lot...I was maybe a little bit more experienced on the international stage,” Mayer said on center court following the match. “Today he played very tough and improved his serve, and it was a very good play from my end too.”

China’s two remaining wild cards, Ze and Gong, are to play in first-round singles on Tuesday. Zhang will meet Spain’s Fernando Verdasco (No. 31) and Gong will challenge German Philipp Kohlschreiber (No. 25).

By Elaine Ramirez
Korea Herald correspondent