Berd man can fly in Shanghai
The penultimate Masters Series event of the year, the Shanghai Rolex Masters, takes centre stage on the ATP Tour this week and it should be an intriguing renewal.
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Not least because it heralds the return of Roger Federer, the world number one who has not been seen since playing Davis Cup for Switzerland a few weeks ago. Federer is chasing a record 22nd Masters crown having already won three Masters Series events this year.
He's at the top table again in terms of the betting but he may not be match tough having played no part in the ATP Asian swing until now so a watching brief is perhaps best advised.
The great man may be 31 but shows no sign of slowing down having reclaimed top spot in the world from Novak Djokovic, who is also in town this week.
Djokovic looked in great nick at last week's China Open (at time of writing he had made the final while barely getting out of second gear) and the Serb has showed no signs of a post-US Open hangover at all in Beijing.
Djokovic has made the semi-finals twice here but has yet to reach a final in Shanghai. Unlike Andy Murray, the British number one who is bidding for his third straight win at the event.
Murray has a perfect 9-0 record in Shanghai and is one of only two men to have won here (Nikolay Davydenko winning the inaugural title in 2009).
He played some sublime stuff in spells at the China Open but lost a real thriller on Saturday in the semi-finals to Milos Raonic, being pegged back from 4-1 up in the deciding set to eventually lose a tense tie-break.
Murray admitted to the media before the China Open that many of the world's elite players are flagging at this stage of the season and for this reason our strategy this week is to get with a few big price alternatives rather than predictably nailing our colours to the mast of the likes of Djokovic, Murray or Federer.
Step forward Tomas Berdych. The big Czech passed 50 ATP Tour wins for the season in Japan last week and he is looking that bit more consistent this season.
He's always had the talent and the power but as he showed in dusting off Federer at the US Open when he puts it all together he can prove almost unplayable.
Berdych has a decent record in the Far East and should be motivated with valuable ranking points available here. He is well placed to make the end-of-season Tour Finals but a win in Shanghai would virtually assure him of a spot in London.
A huge man with a big serve and damaging groundies from both wings, I honestly fancy Berdych to break his Grand Slam duck in 2013, particularly if Rafael Nadal's injury woes continue.
In short, current 40/1 quotes look an insult to a man of his talent and he definitely looks a tidy proposition each-way.
In the opposite half of the draw to Berdych few will relish facing big John Isner.
The American behemoth has a poor record at this event (just one win in three matches) but he's had a good season and is up to 11 in the world.
Isner also has an outside chance of making the Tours Finals and the 27-year-old is playing at the very height of his powers just now.
An ace machine, Isner should revel in the quick conditions in Shanghai and he has already won titles at Winston-Salem and Newport this season.
If he gets into his serving groove early and Murray (who is also in his quarter) falters, look for the Floridian to cash in.