No tournament exemplifies the rise of Novak Djokovic like the China Open and the remorseless Serb is hungry to extend his incredible unbeaten run in Beijing — and this time, flanked by his brother.
The world number one has an unblemished 24-0 record after winning five times in the Chinese capital and after stamping his authority on men’s tennis this year, few look like toppling him.
What’s more, the Serb will be joined by his brother Djordje, eight years younger and ranked 1,485 places lower, who has a wildcard and will team up for an all-Djokovic doubles pairing.
The unprecedented sight will continue a tennis tradition in the Djokovic household after their elder brother Marko reached a career-high ranking of 581.
Djordje’s presence notwithstanding, Novak Djokovic headlines an event which is feeling the effects of a long and hard year, with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova both out of the women’s draw.
The 28-year-old’s path to an eighth title of 2015 has been eased by the no-shows of Andy Murray and Roger Federer, although Rafael Nadal arrives looking to add gloss to a forgettable year.
But for Stan Wawrinka’s rapier backhand in Paris, Djokovic could have touched down clutching a calendar-year Grand Slam after he won three out of four of the season’s major finals.
Djokovic stands out from the men’s “Big Four” after he subdued Murray in the Australian Open final, Federer at Wimbledon and the US Open, and dethroned Nadal on the clay of Roland Garros.
“The mental strength and the level of tennis is difficult to equal,” an admiring Nadal said of Djokovic this week, ahead of an exhibition match against the Serb in Thailand.
“I texted him after the US Open, but I want to say today in a public way, it’s amazing the way he’s playing during the whole season.”
It’s a testament to Djokovic’s methods and application that he has flown to far-flung Beijing at the tail-end of five tough campaigns and emerged victorious each time.
The only time he has skipped the China Open was in 2011, during his glorious 70-6 season in which he compiled a career-best 10 titles, including three Grand Slam trophies.
A victory in Beijing, with the Shanghai Masters and ATP World Tour Finals to come, would complete another 10-trophy haul plus career-high earnings which already top $14 million.
Gluten-free Djokovic also draws on traditional Chinese medicine for inspiration, but marriage and fatherhood have also done him no harm at all after he welcomed his first child a year ago.
In the context, his advice to young players in Bangkok was telling: enjoy what you do. This is the main source of motivation, love and really being able to stand up every morning and understand why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he said.
While Djokovic is all smiles, an emotionally exhausted Williams has already pulled the plug on 2015 after she narrowly missed out on the first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988.
The absence of Williams and injury-troubled Sharapova throws the women’s draw wide open, with world number two Simona Halep also shocked in Wuhan this week by 66th-ranked Brit Johanna Konta.