Andy Murray leads the field at the China Open, but will he raise the trophy? He begins his Beijing campaign against Andreas Seppi in the first round at approximately 4.30pm local time (9.30am BST.)
With defending champion Novak Djokovic's withdrawal, it has fallen to Andy Murray to head up a loaded draw at the China Open. One of the most popular 500-event spots on tour, the line-up suffers little from the absence of Djokovic, Roger Federer and Stan Wawrinka. Murray, Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic and Dominic Thiem are just four of the men who will keep the audience entertained from the get-go.
But how long will they last? If history is anything to go by, then this is actually uncertain ground. Murray is making only his third appearance at the event in his career, having lost in the quarterfinals in 2010 to Ivan Ljubicic, and to Novak Djokovic in the 2014 semifinals. He also comes into the event looking rather wobbly. One of the standout players of the first half of the year, the Brit made all three Grand Slam finals – winning one of them, Wimbledon – and regularly going deep at Masters 1000 events. He also won gold at the Rio Olympics, becoming the first man in tennis history to claim two singles gold medals. Nevertheless, it seems that his heroics have plummeted the world no. 2 into the spiral of mental and physical fatigue that have laid hold of Novak Djokovic.
It is not as though Andy Murray has been posting tremendously poor results. The fact is, matches that the three-time Slam champion would usually have won 99 percent of the time have not been going his way. Deep in the fifth set of his US Open clash with Kei Nishikori, the unwritten laws of the ATP tour said that Andy Murray would rise victorious. But as Nishikori did not crack, the world was left in shock as an imperfect Murray fell in the quarterfinals, 7-5 in the decider. This was his second loss since Rio, the Scot also having been absolutely shocked by world no. 14 Marin Cilic: 6-4 7-5 in the Cincinnati final. And most recently, the longest match of the 29-year-old's entire career ended in defeat, as Juan Martin Del Potro beat him 6-4 5-7 6-7(5) 6-3 6-4 in the round robin stage of the Davis Cup. The five hour seven minute loss was his first ever on home soil at the event, and contributed to a semifinal defeat for Great Britain. Weary, and much in need of a holiday, will a couple of weeks away from the competitive scene have rejuvenated Murray?
Andreas Seppi will be the first man to test whether this is the case. Italy's world no. 94 will be far from the easiest of openers for Murray, having caused some trouble among the elite in times past. With a career-high ranking of no. 18 coming three years ago, the 32-year-old was responsible for the shock 2015 Australian Open third round upset of Roger Federer. He also saved six match points to defeat Stan Wawrinka back in 2012.
But it has been a poor year for Seppi. With the highlight a run to the semifinals in Nottingham, his only top 20 win came against a struggling David Ferrer in Halle. The only hope he can cling to is that he did not look outstanding during the time periods in which he produced any of his other upsets, either.
Seppi has actually beaten Andy Murray before, coming through 7-6(4) 4-6 6-1 in the quarterfinals of Nottingham, way back in 2006. But that was the pair's first ever meeting. In their seven since, Murray has only dropped a single set – on matches spanning all three of tennis' surfaces. Their latest clash was the one to extend straight sets, however: Murray winning 6-2 6-2 1-6 6-1 in the Wimbledon third round last season. Can Andreas Seppi make any impact away from grass courts?
Andy Murray and Andreas Seppi face off in the China Open third round at approximately 4.30pm local time (9.30am BST.)