It might sound strange given Roger Federer's recent Laver Cup exploits, but the all-time men's Grand Slam singles champ could really use a title.
That is, one at an ATP-sanctioned tournament. It's something Federer hasn't experienced since he outfoxed Milos Raonic on grass in the Stuttgart final in early June.
Sure, Federer is still ranked No. 2. But in the annual "race" tally (which becomes more relevant as the year goes on), he has fallen to No. 4. In his last major tournament appearance, he wilted in the sopping heat of the US Open, losing in four sets against Aussie journeyman John Millman in the fourth round. Granted, Federer's chances of finishing the year No. 1 are slim to none, but it would be a real bummer for him to not end the year with at least one more high note.
Federer will get a chance to right his slightly listing ship starting Monday, and he couldn't ask for a better place to do it than the Shanghai Masters 1000, where he's defending champion.
Shanghai is likely the final Masters-grade tournament he'll play before the ATP World Tour Finals, which makes it all the more significant. "I don't plan to play Paris [an October Masters 1000 tournament]," Federer told ESPN.com recently. "But that a little bit that depends on how Basel goes."
Basel is a second-tier ATP 500, but it's also Federer's Swiss hometown. An eight-time champion there, Federer uses Basel as a tuneup for the World Tour Finals. Should he suffer an early loss, coupled with a so-so performance Shanghai, Paris might come back into play.
Federer has won Shanghai four times -- twice as part of the Masters Series and twice when the city hosted the more exalted World Tour Finals. No player has won in Shanghai more often. Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray are next best with three titles apiece.
But Murray is done for the year, still trying to recover his form following hip surgery. World No. 1 Rafael Nadal is out injured as well, leaving Federer as top seed. Juan Martin del Potro, Alexander Zverev and Djokovic round out the top four seeds. Federer has his work cut out. All four men have had wins over him in Masters finals within the past 13 months, give or take a few days.
Federer hasn't been sweating the details, though. His Asian swing this year began early with days of meetings with his new mega-sponsor, Uniqlo. He was also stoked about introducing his twin boys, Leo and Lennart, now 4 years old, to the wonders of the Far East.
But thoughts and concerns about Djokovic's service return or del Potro's forehand probably are increasing in Federer's mind as Shanghai approaches. He is defending 1,000 rankings points, so no matter what happens, his official ranking can only remain the same or go down. He knows that with his limited schedule, he's performing a rankings high-wire act.
"Upsets happen when you play less," Federer said. "So then if you don't schedule enough tournaments your ranking goes down fast. So you have to have even more confidence and trust in yourself when you do lose a match maybe you should win."
Federer demonstrated that confidence with his play in Laver Cup, against John Isner in a bout decided by a match tiebreaker and with a more routine win over Nick Kyrgios. There will be longer matches in Shanghai.
The bromance between Federer and Djokovic was a major story at Laver Cup, and how it might affect a potential matchup is likely to become a theme in Shanghai. That's all well and good. Let the cheery afterglow of Laver Cup linger for a little while longer.
But remember both men were quick to caution this new phase in a relationship that previously could only be called guarded will not dilute the intensity of their rivalry. They will not, as Federer joked more than once, "be going on vacation together."
Djokovic is hardly Federer's only worry in the upcoming week. Fed needs another win, and he's running out of time in 2018 to put one up.