It can take time to find your feet at the Tennis Masters Cup, where there are no easy matches. Juan Martin del Potro made his first appearance yesterday and was beaten 7-5, 6-3 by Novak Djokovic, who lost all three of his matches on his debut 12 months ago. A second newcomer, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, was beaten 6-7, 6-4, 7-6 by Nikolay Davydenko, who is playing here for the fourth year in succession.
Today it will be Andy Murray's turn to make his bow in the Qi Zhong Stadium, the cavernous purpose-built arena which has hosted the end-of-season showpiece for the last four years. The world No 4 plays his opening round-robin match against Andy Roddick, who is competing in his fifth Masters Cup.
As you might expect in a teeming city of 18 million people, everything in this tournament is on a grand scale. The players live in the lap of luxury, their only concerns being the hordes of autograph-hunting teenagers who line up outside their hotel and the traffic their personal drivers have to negotiate en route to the venue, where they have their own private locker rooms.
The prizes are similarly sumptuous. In an attempt to ensure the participation of the leading men, the world's top four players are offered huge bonuses. As world No 4 Murray will pick up $350,000 (£224,000) just for walking out on court.
Thereafter every round-robin victory is worth $100,000 (£63,000), while an undefeated champion would collect $1.3m (£824,000), £74,000 more than Rafael Nadal's winning cheque at Wimbledon this summer. In choosing to rest his injured knee before the Davis Cup final in Argentina, Nadal turned down the chance to win $2.84m (£1.8m) here.
Del Potro, who will be a key figure for the home team against Spain next week, admitted to early nerves yesterday. He dropped his serve in the fourth game, broke back in the ninth but then hurled his racket in anger after netting two successive forehands to lose the first set when serving at 5-6. The world No 8 made an early break in the second set, only for Djokovic to win five of the last six games.
The Serb, who charmed the local crowd by thanking them in Chinese, agreed that his greater experience had been an advantage. "It helps you a lot in important points," Djokovic said.
Davydenko served for his match at 5-3 in the second set, but Tsonga made a spirited fightback. The final tie-break, however, was one-way traffic, Davydenko winning it 7-0.
*Laura Robson, the Wimbledon junior champion, won her first adult title yesterday when she beat her fellow Briton, Samantha Vickers, in the LTA tournament in Sunderland. Playing in only her fifth senior tournament, 14-year-old Robson won 6-3 6-2. She made her WTA Tour debut last month, losing to World No42 Iveta Benesova in Luxembourg. Meanwhile Anne Keothavong, the British No 1, beat Romania's Monica Niculescu 7-6, 4-6, 6-3 in the final of the ITF tournament in Krakow.Reuse content