It was July 25th., 2005. Rafael Nadal became ATP No. 2 after clinching the Stuttgart title. Since then, Nadal and Roger Federer have occupied the top two spots of the ATP ranking for four straight years (and counting...). During that incredible stretch, the following players have occupied the No. 3 spot at some point: Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Roddick, Marat Safin, David Nalbandian, Ivan Ljubicic, Nikolay Davydenko, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. While it is yet to be seen how Murray will challenge the Federer-Nadal duopoly, it is fair to say that none of the other guys had a real shot at ending the F-N dominance, except the "Djoker". Djokovic first became ATP No. 3 on July 9th., 2007, and then held that spot from August 13th., 2007 to May 11th., 2009. During the 2008 season and earlier this year, Djokovic came within one match of reaching the No. 2 spot on four occasions, two when Nadal was No. 2 and two when Federer was No. 2. The following is a brief account of the Djoker's misfortune.
1. 2008 AMS Hamburg (Nadal at No. 2)
Djokovic and Nadal came into this tournament under completely different circumstances. Djokovic just won the AMS Rome title the week before while Nadal suffered a surprising opening-match loss to Juan Carlos Ferrero. Therefore, when they met in the semi-finals, many were in favor of Djokovic (also he won their previous meeting in Indian Wells quite comfortably). It was a close battle lasting more than three hours. As usual, Nadal played the more important points better, saving 15 (out of 19) break points while converting five (out of nine) break chances, finally winning 7-5, 2-6, 6-2. Should Djokovic have won that match, he would replace Nadal as ATP No. 2 (thus changing the seeding of 2008 French Open).
2. 2008 Roland Garros (Nadal at No. 2)
Nadal, the king of clay, entered 2008 RG as the three-time defending champion. He had not lost a single match since he first competed there in 2005. As it happened, Djokovic would again meet Nadal in the semi-finals. This time around, very few were in favor of Djokovic. It was indeed more straightforward than their previous encounter, with Nadal coming out on top 6-4, 6-2, 7-6. In fact, Nadal did not even drop a set en route to his fourth straight RG title, with Djokovic the only player being able to push him to a tiebreaker. Again, should Djokovic have won that match, he would rise to No. 2 (thus possibly changing the seeding of 2008 Wimbledon).
3. 2008 TMC Shanghai (Federer at No. 2)
Federer arrived at 2008 Tennis Masters Cup without winning a Masters Series title. He withdrew from the quarter-finals match against James Blake in AMS Paris, citing back problems. In Shanghai, he was apparently not at his best. After defeats to Gilles Simon and Murray, he exited the tournament at the round-robin stage for the first time. Meanwhile, Djokovic was finding his form again and he eventually won the year-end championship for the first time. However, he lost one match in the round-robin stage to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who finished fourth in the Gold group (though he did beat Djokovic in their previous two encounters). Should Djokovic have won that match against Tsonga, he would gain 100 more points and thus replace Federer as ATP year-end No. 2. As it was, he trailed Federer by 10 points!
4. 2009 Medibank International (Federer at No. 2)
In the first week of the 2009 season, Nadal/Federer/Murray all decided to play at Doha while Djokovic opted for Brisbane. Since Djokovic was only trailing Federer by 20 points (the ranking points were doubled at the start of 2009), he only needed to perform one-round better than Federer to reach that elusive No. 2 spot. And he was quite favored to accomplish that according to the Big Four's choices of tournaments. However, he suffered a surprising opening-round loss to Ernests Gulbis. He then accepted a wild card to play at Sydney. Since Federer lost to Murray in the semi-finals at Doha, Djokovic could still reach No. 2 if he could advance to the final at Sydney (though this would not affect the seeding of 2009 Australian Open). He nearly did so, but unfortunately was stopped by Jarkko Nieminen in the semi-finals, who he never lost to before that match.