Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic have won five of the last six Shanghai Masters title and they are the top favorites to reach the title match this Sunday as well, entering the penultimate Masters 1000 event of the season as the top seeds in the absence of Rafael Nadal.
Roger and Novak have played against each other 46 times so far in the last 12 years and two of those encounters have come here in Shanghai, with Federer prevailing in both semi-finals in 2010 and 2014 to reach the title match.
Novak is a three-time Shanghai champion but he is yet to solve Federer riddle on these fast hard courts and win a set against the Swiss. Between Canada and the ATP Finals in 2010, Federer and Djokovic played five matches and Roger won four of those, scoring a 7-5 6-4 win in the semi-final of Shanghai in an hour and 42 minutes.
Roger produced more damage with his first serve and he repelled four out of five break points to keep the pressure on Novak, winning 40% of the return points and stealing rival's serve three times from four opportunities to wrap up the match in straight sets.
It was a fine performance from Roger who played in Shanghai for the first time, hitting more winners and a fewer number of unforced errors than Novak and prevailing in the longest points to earn his victory. Interestingly, Novak was more efficient in the shortest points where Roger should have had the edge but he failed to deliver his best tennis in those extended exchanges where he couldn't put Federer's backhand under more pressure and emerge as the winner.
Djokovic held after a few deuces in his opening two service games and he found the way to create a break chance at 2-1, controlling that rally but ruined everything with a poor drop shot that barely reached the net. Roger had to save three more break points and he did that with a powerful serve that Djokovic sent into the net, a forehand winner and an amazing backhand cross court winner, bringing the game home with after a backhand error from Novak to gain a huge boost before the rest of the set.
Novak was certainly the better player on the return in the opening 10 games and he was two points away from the set when he reached a deuce on the return at 5-4, denied by two great points from Federer who held in that game and finally did more damage on the return a few minutes later for a break point.
Djokovic saved it but it wasn't to be for him, wasting a game point and losing serve after a loose backhand that pushed Roger 6-5 up. That was all Federer needed to seal the opener, firing three winners in the following game for a 7-5 after a grueling 63 minutes.
The momentum was entirely on Roger's side now and he opened the second set with a break following a forehand unforced error from Novak who lost his focus in the closing stages of the opener a little bit. A service winner confirmed the break for Federer and he hit another one at 2-1 to stay ahead and keep the pressure on Djokovic who couldn't endure it, getting broken again in game five after a smash winner from Roger to find himself 4-1 down.
Destructed a little bit by this huge advantage, Federer played a loose service game to suffer a break but he regrouped next time around to move 5-3 ahead after a service winner in game eight. Serving for the place in the final in game 10, Roger fired three winners and it was all over when he forced an error from Novak's backhand (he was pushing the Serb's left wing during the entire match) to notch his 11th triumph over Djokovic in 17 matches so far.
Two rivals had played five times against each other in 2014 and Shanghai was another stop in their rivalry, with Federer scoring a 6-4 6-4 win in an hour and 36 minutes for another final at this event. The Swiss was even more impressive than four years ago, saving the only break point he faced and creating 10 break chances on the return, converting one in each set to march into the final.
He performed better on both the first and second serve and had more winners and a fewer number of unforced errors to grab 11 points more than Novak, overpowering the Serb in the mid-range exchanges to wrap up the win in two sets.
It was a solid start for both players but Novak lost the ground in the fifth game when he got broken, creating a break point in the next game after a beautiful backhand cross court winner that Roger saved with an equally powerful forehand winner, bringing the game home with a service winner to cement the break and move 4-2 ahead.
Four aces sent Roger 5-3 up after 47 seconds and he closed the opener with an ace in the 10th game for a 6-4 after 38 minutes. Just like in their 2010 encounter, Novak suffered a break at the start of the second set after a forehand winner from Roger who cemented the lead with a service winner in game two.
He made another easy hold in the fourth game and Novak was in all kind of troubles again in the next game, fending off fourth break points with some impressive shot-making to at least stay in contention and within one break deficit.
Another unreturned serve pushed Federer 4-2 ahead but he had to work much harder to secure another hold in game eight, allowing Novak to reach five deuces in what had been by far the best game of the match before he closed it with a service winner to move closer to the finish line.
Djokovic saved two match points with winners in game nine but Federer was not to be denied, sealing the deal with a volley winner at 5-4 for another triumph against Novak in Shanghai. Four years after their last Shanghai match the time has probably come to see them in action on Sunday again if they overpower all the rivals and set another Masters 1000 final, just like in Cincinnati back in August where Novak completed the Career Golden Masters.