Shanghai: A pensive-looking Roger Federer was ushered into the back seat of a waiting car at Pudong airport in Shanghai on Friday as officials in China attempted to find the culprit of a bizarre threat made against the life of the world’s most famous tennis player.
Federer was on his way from Dubai to participate in the penultimate Masters 1000 event of the year when a message was posted on the website baidu.com saying: “On October 6, I plan to assassinate Roger Federer for the purpose of tennis extermination,” and was signed “Blue Cat Polytheistic Religion Founder 07”.
A gruesome image of someone with an axe standing over Federer accompanied the words.
As the Chinese authorities attempted to keep news of the threat under wraps — insisting that local journalists should not write anything about it — it was clear that extra security was awaiting the arrival of the Wimbledon champion and world No.1, who confirmed only three days ago that he was playing in the Shanghai Rolex Masters, having missed last year’s tournament.
The Federer cavalcade then swept — as much as traffic can sweep in such a teeming city — to the hotel where there are certain to be some very nervous people as the next couple of days pass.
There is no more popular international athlete in China than Federer, who won two of his six Masters Cup titles when the final event of the ATP Tour season was staged in Shanghai, and there is always a large group of fans camped on the steps of the hotel.
Federer will be the top seed for the event as he attempts to see off the threat from Novak Djokovic, the Serbian, who can overhaul the Swiss at the top of the rankings before the end of the season and is through to the semi-finals of the China Open, being staged in Beijing.
If Federer reaches the quarter finals next week, he will have spent 300 non-consecutive weeks as the best player in the world, a record that may never be bettered.
Djokovic dropped only three games in 53 minutes as he defeated Jurgen Melzer, the Austrian, to qualify for a place in the last four against Florian Mayer, of Germany.
In Tokyo, Andy Murray, the defending champion, was facing Milos Raonic, of Canada, in the semi-finals of the Rakuten Open overnight, a rematch of their fourth-round meeting at the US Open.
He reached the last four by defeating Stanislas Wawrinka, of Switzerland, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 overcoming a slight mid-match wobble before unleashing a series of powerful forehands in the final set.
The most memorable point came at 2-1, deuce, when Wawrinka felt he had won it with a forehand cross-court volley only for Murray to make incredible ground to a dying ball and clip it across the net where it struck the rim of Wawrinka’s racket and flew wide.