Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal: Who Will Win the Ratings Game?

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Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Rafael Nadal: Who Will Win the Ratings Game?
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We all aspire to be No. 1 in something. For most it means attaining an enviable status like being the best-looking or the richest.

In sports, however, it is being the best there is—like winning the World Series or the Super Bowl.  In tennis, it means being ranked No. 1.

Since 1973, 24 men have been ranked No. 1 for varying degrees of time.  Currently there is a new player hoping to claw his way to that top spot—Serb sensation, Novak Djokovic.

A major shift in the tennis landscape occurred after Indian Wells as Novak Djokovic surged past the Federer encampment dug in deep near the summit. The Serb replaced Federer as the No. 2 ranked player in the world.

Federer can still reach out and grab the Serb’s ankle and trip him up on his way to the top––that is, if the Swiss can recapture the Sony Ericsson trophy in Miami. Federer won this tournament in 2005 and 2006.  Djokovic won it in 2007.

Currently in the ATP rankings, Djokovic leads Federer by 430 points.  At Miami in 2010 Djokovic was defeated in the second round. Since he was only awarded ten points, that is all he will lose from his current total as last year’s points fall off.

Federer lost in the round of 16 of the Sony Ericsson Open last year and will lose 90 points.  In order for Federer to bypass the Serb at Miami in 2011, the Swiss would have to score over 510 points more than Djokovic.

There are two scenarios that allow Federer to ascend to the No. 2 ranking directly after Miami. Federer would have to win the tournament with Djokovic doing no better than reaching the semifinals. 

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Or Federer could make the finals, lose and still regain the No. 2 ranking but only if Djokovic advanced no further than the third round. 

In either scenario, Federer must make the finals.

It looks pretty iffy for the the man from Switzerland to bounce immediately back into the No. 2 spot.

As the two get ready to enter the clay court season, Djokovic has 945 points to defend from 2010.

Djokovic earned 360 points in Monte Carlo with 180 points added in Rome, 45 points gained in Belgrade plus 360 points earned at the 2010 French Open when the Serb advanced to the quarterfinals at Stade Roland Garros.

For Federer the story is quite similar with 1060 points to defend.

The total added at Rome was 10 points, from Estoril Federer earned 90 points, in Madrid the Swiss added 600 points by meeting Nadal in the final and at the 2010 French Open Federer was dismissed in the quarterfinals adding only 360 points.

Contrast their totals to Nadal's.  The Majorcan must defend 5,360 points through the French Open. To given himself some cushion, Nadal is adding Barcelona back into this schedule in 2011.

Federer has already indicated that he will play Monte Carlo in April, a tournament the Swiss elected to forgo in 2010.  No doubt, Djokovic will pick up another clay court tournament to bolster his point totals prior to the French Open.

Of course, ultimately ranking really does not matter unless you fall out of the top four because each top player secures top seeding in his own quarter of the draw. This vantage point allows the top seed to meet unseeded and lower ranked players in the early rounds.

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The true showdowns between the top four are supposed to take place only at the semifinal stage. 

Currently, however, there are a few nasty floaters in the mix with Murray falling to No. 5 and with Juan Martin del Potro likely to show up any place in the mix these days—although his ranking is shooting up faster than most expected it.

Of course, there are the new boys Milos Raonic whose ranking has shot up from 153 at the start of 2011 to a current high of 34, Ryan Harrison who has risen to No. 130 after starting the year at 173 and Alexandr Dolgopolov whose ranking since the first of the year has gone from No. 49 to current No. 23.

These youngsters need to add some consistency into their game before the guys at the top really begin to sweat their presence in the draw or across the net. Raonic and Harrison are out already in Miami.

So far Federer is 18-3 on the 2011 season. He has won one title in Doha.  His three losses are all to one man, Novak Djokovic—in the semifinals of the Australian Open, the finals at Dubai and the semifinals at Indian Wells. 

The Swiss continues to play very good tennis despite his losses to Djokovic.

Currently the Serb is playing the best tennis of all the men on tour, bar none.

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The question remains—will Djokovic be able to sustain his almost perfect form as the tour moves to clay?

In order to achieve his ultimate desire to be No. 1, Djokovic will have to continue to play at his current level.

Much as Nadal did in 2010, Djokovic must dominate play from this point forward in order to overtake Nadal and stay ahead of Federer whose consistent play at the top of the men’s game has remained almost without equal - for the past eight years.

Miami is the last hard court stop on the men’s tour until summer. The landscape will morph into red clay and dust.

There will be a short reprieve on the green lawns of Great Britain and Germany before the players return to the artificial surfaces that are so hard on knees and bodies.

For the time being, all the pressure will be on Djokovic who has been unable to sustain this level of play in the past. Whether he can in 2011 is yet to be seen.

Federer will bide his time and wait. In the past few years, he has grown into a patient man.

As long as he is playing consistently well—well enough to stay close to the top, the Swiss Maestro will not panic. 

Nadal will spend the next three months trying to duplicate his magnificent run in 2010 through the clay and the grass.  One suspects that his confidence will return in full force once he is breathing the chalky fumes of red clay.

Now as the top players get ready to take the court in Miami, what will become the most talked about twists and turns offered up during the opening rounds of play?

Which player will emerge as the newest darling of the media—the one with the inside track on the latest episode of the “Ratings Game—2011?”

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