Once upon a time, it all seemed so simple. There were two men who could do anything with a tennis ball, could run rings round the rest of the competition and would divvy up the titles and the top two spots in the rankings between them: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
By the end of 2010, one or the other had topped the tennis rankings for seven years, give or take the occasional flurry of excitement as Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray slipped into the No. 2 slot for a few weeks.
One or the other had featured in every Major final bar one for the last six years and they had won all but two of the last 23. By the WTFs at the end of the year, they had once again closed the door on everyone else as they fought it out for the title of the year’s concluding event.
But that was then; 2011 has been a different story. Novak Djokovic, who had been snapping at the heels of Federer and Nadal for almost four years, transformed—almost in the blink of an eye—after leading his country, Serbia, to a famous Davis Cup win in December.
The brash confidence that had won him his first Australian title at just 20 was remodeled into a mature confidence, and he immediately broke the Federer-Nadal stranglehold on the Majors by taking his second Australian title.
That was just the start. Having beaten Federer in the semis in Melbourne, Djokovic toppled him twice more at Indian Wells and Dubai. He gave Nadal the same treatment, beating the Spaniard for the first time in a final at Indian Wells and then he repeated the feat in all three of their subsequent Masters finals.
Most significant of all, as they arrive on the clay of the second Major of the year at Roland Garros, is that the Serb has just beaten Nadal in two successive clay Masters finals, in straight sets, bringing to an end a 37-match unbroken run for the Spaniard on his best surface.
Few need reminding that Djokovic is, thus far, unbeaten in 2011 and is enjoying a 39-match-winning streak. Should he win in Paris, he will tie Guillermo Vilas for the longest run, 46, in the Open era. But the next important step for the Serb is the top ranking.
Djokovic has been No. 2 since he overtook Federer at Indian Wells. Now, unless Nadal wins the French Open title, Djokovic will finally become No. 1. And even if Nadal does win the title, Djokovic will take over the top spot if he reaches the final.
So are there any scenarios that may prevent a fifth final between the same two men? And which of the two will be No. 1 on the last day of the clay season?
This assessment of the draw and its likely winners is interspersed with a few relevant stats to help you decide.