There was a certain déjà vu about the storyline that could unfold on the emerald sward of Wimbledon.
In the run-up to what most anticipated would be a dream final, the top spot was ready to shift from one of these players to the other.
Between them and their fifth final of the year, however, were two men peaking at just the right time to make their own claim on the greatest prize in the tennis year.
Roger Federer had brought Djokovic’s 43-match run to a halt in the semifinals of Paris and was becoming many pundits’ favorite to take his seventh Wimbledon title.
Andy Murray had challenged Nadal on the clay of Monte Carlo and Djokovic on the clay of Rome. He had also just won the biggest grass title outside Wimbledon at Queen’s.
This same quartet had filled 13 of the 16 semifinal places in the last four slams, including all four at the French Open, so it looked a tough ask for anyone else to intrude on their battle ground.
By the time the draw had whittled down to 16, everything was still laid out to perfection—and this month’s Power Rankings are filled by 10 of those 16.
For the connoisseurs, there were the big four: Nadal, Djokovic, Federer and Murray.
For the fourth Wimbledon in a row, unseeded players also had a toehold: Feliciano Lopez and Xavier Malisse.
Then there was the added spice of two qualifiers: Lukasz Kubot at the older end of the scale, 29, and Bernard Tomic at the younger extreme, 18.
There were serve-and-volleyers and all-courters, there were men new to the top 10 such as Mardy Fish and men fighting back to the top 10 such as Juan Martin del Potro.
There were zesty rematches of notorious battles. Murray and Richard Gasquet in a replay of their last two Grand Slam meetings, both five-set thrillers.
There was also old-school tennis between old adversaries. Federer in his 13th straight Wimbledon against Mikhail Youzhny in his 11th, both aged 29, both with a silky, single-handed backhand.
To cap it all, the match between Nadal and Del Potro threatened to sideline both men with injury. In the end, they played out one of the contests of the tournament—45 games containing just 37 unforced errors and over 100 winners.
The greatest drama, though, was saved for the very last day. When Djokovic finally led Nadal into the colosseum of Centre Court, he had already won the first battle in the war for tennis dominance.
By Monday morning, Novak would be No. 1 in the world.
Now he was aiming to become the first man in nine years not named Nadal or Federer to win the most coveted of titles.
He had only to beat the current champion, unbeaten in 20 straight matches at Wimbledon and the holder of 10 Grand Slams, the man Djokovic himself had, at Indian Wells, called “the best player ever.”
But what Nadal saw across the net, in the cold light of this particular London afternoon, was a different Djokovic from the one he had beaten at the U.S. Open—their last Grand Slam final.
The Serb had since won the Australian Open and all four Masters they had contested. He had lost only one match all year, and he had won seven of the eight tournaments he had entered.
This single match would play out, in real time, the shift in the power balance from Nadal to the new “best.”
And in an appropriate convergence of landmark achievements, we salute Djokovic, Wimbledon champion, No. 1 in the world and leader of this month’s Power Rankings.
Last Power Ranking: 10; ATP Ranking: 11
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [R16]; Roland Garros [R16]; Rome [Semifinalist]; Madrid [R64].
Power Ranking Points: 262
One of the pleasures of 2011 has been the re-emergence of Richard Gasquet into the top ranks.
Victories over Andy Roddick in Indian Wells and Roger Federer and Tomas Berdych in Rome have given him confidence and with that, rather more of the old attack in his game.
Gasquet is now within just five points of Roddick in the rankings so has a top-10 place within touching distance for the first time in over three years.
His matchup against Murray at Wimbledon was keenly anticipated.
In 2008, Gasquet had Murray at his mercy in the fourth round, two sets up and serving for the match. But Murray stormed back in front of an ecstatic home crowd.
History repeated in the opening round of last year’s French Open when Gasquet looked for all the world like the winner but Murray again came back from two sets down to win.
This year’s encounter was a credit to Murray’s form—a relatively straightforward three-setter in his favor—but Gasquet is only a year older than the Scot and is growing fitter and more assured by the month.
Gasquet will be one of the French team that takes on Germany on clay. But the real test of just how far Gasquet is prepared to step inside the baseline and take the initiative will become more clear on the American hard courts where he has the chance to enter the top 10 ahead of the U.S. Open.
Last Power Ranking: 9; ATP Ranking: 6
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [R16]; Roland Garros [R16]; Nice [Quarterfinalist]; Madrid [Quarterfinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 263
The Spanish pocket dynamo just doesn’t give an inch, month in, month out. He spent most of 2010 scrambling his way back from 18 in the world to the top eight, qualified for the World Tour Finals and has stayed at six or seven in the rankings throughout 2011.
He has got that spark back in his eye with a wider range of shots: the introduction of more net attack and some extra pace on his serve.
He may have counted himself unlucky to meet a surging Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the fourth round as Ferrer’s form this year had quarterfinals written all over it, and that would have been a Wimbledon first.
As it is, he maintained his points from last year and his high standard for the season.
Ferrer goes across the Atlantic to join Lopez in Spain’s crucial Davis Cup tie against the States before coming all the way back to Bastad in Sweden for a return to his favorite clay.
He was a semifinalist there last year, losing to Robin Soderling. The Swede goes direct to Bastad without playing Davis Cup so will be the fresher man should they meet again, especially as he exited Wimbledon in the third round.
Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 31
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist]; London Queen’s [R32]; Roland Garros [R128]; Rome [R16].
Power Ranking Points: 376
Feliciano Lopez has caught many female eyes before, but he was noticed by a few more this year after Murray made public his mother’s nickname for the statuesque, blue-eyed, chisel-jawed Spaniard.
Lopez has that rare thing in Spain, a big left-handed serve-and-volley game and, looking trimmer and faster this year than in a while, he reached his first Grand Slam quarterfinal in three years and only the third of his career.
He worked mighty hard for it, too, especially in his fourth-round four-and-a-quarter hour five-setter against qualifier Kubot. Lopez came back from two sets down to take the match 7-5 in the fifth.
The two men fired 55 aces between them—more than the number of unforced errors—and hit 80 winners each. Indeed Lopez topped the tournament’s aces count by the end of the quarterfinals: 107.
Not unsurprisingly, Lopez had too little left to trouble Murray in the quarters, but he did end his Wimbledon 13 places higher in the rankings—and Kubot jumped 24 places. A pretty decent result all round for two unseeded men nearing 30.
Lopez joins the Spanish squad for the biggest quarterfinal Davis Cup tie this week, his 17th tie. He was also a member of the winning Spanish teams in both 2008 and 2009.
On the American hard courts, he may well cause some upsets in his present form. Roddick was, in fact, amongst his victims at Wimbledon in straight sets—two of them tiebreakers.
Thereafter, he currently appears to be bypassing Los Angeles, where he was a semifinalist last year, to focus on improving on his first-round exits from Toronto and Cincinnati last year.
Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 71
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist]; Roland Garros [R128]; Miami ; Indian Wells [R64].
Power Ranking Points: 385
The 18-year-old Bernard Tomic chose Wimbledon to show just how much potential he has.
The youngest junior winner of the Australian Open, at 15, became the youngest man since Boris Becker to reach the quarterfinals at the All England Club.
The big, huge-hitting Aussie’s reward was a leap of 16 places in the rankings and the kudos not just of beating the seeded Nikolay Davydenko and Robin Soderling but also of taking a set from Djokovic.
It was a shot in the arm for the Australian fans who had camped all night to see Lleyton Hewitt but ended up celebrating the man who, including three qualifying rounds, played eight matches.
Prior to Wimbledon, he had also played two Challenger events in Nottingham, and that clearly helped his grass acumen.
This time last year, Tomic was largely confined to the Challenger circuit and did not make it through the qualifiers of the U.S. Open. This year, he will surely gain points, ranking and reputation through the hard-court season.
On another optimistic note for the green-and-gold contingent, Luke Saville won the boys’ junior title and Ashleigh Barty the girls’ junior title. Both come from Australia.
Tomic heads to Beijing to take his place for the second time in the Australian Davis Cup squad. In his first tie, last spring against Taipei, he won both his singles rubbers in straight sets.
The Chinese hard courts should suit the Tomic power game a treat, and Australia should be heading to the Group Playoffs
Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 8
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist]; Roland Garros [R32]; Rome [R16]; Madrid [R64].
Power Ranking Points: 394
The fairytale continues for Fish who, at around this time last year, launched a new lightweight body and a renewed enthusiasm for tennis.
Now he is the highest ranked American, more than 70 places higher than that 2010 turning point, and he is still climbing.
Currently at a lifetime high, he bypassed the grass warmups ahead of his ninth Wimbledon, and it paid off in spades.
He reached only his third Grand Slam quarterfinal and his first at Wimbledon in more than a decade of slam competition and accounted for the No. 6 seed, Berdych, in the process.
Fish now embarks on what was a points-rich period on the American hard courts last year so will need to be in great shape to maintain his current standing, for while he is breathing down the neck of Gael Monfils, he also has Berdych on his tail.
Good news for the fashion-conscious out there, however. Fish has abandoned his sock-less look in favor of the standard one. The bad news: Roddick has apparently bought all his teammate’s castoffs.
The enviable yet unenviable prospect of the Davis Cup begins for Fish this week. The tie is taking place in Roddick’s home of Austin on hard courts, but it is against Spain.
Even without Nadal in the lineup, the Americans face Ferrer, Fernando Verdasco and Lopez. But with Wimbledon doubles champions, the Bryan brothers, on board, there is still hope for the home team.
Fish is then scheduled to play in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington before the start of his Masters campaign, and that’s a very ambitious programme.
Last Power Ranking: 2; ATP Ranking: 3
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Quarterfinalist]; Roland Garros [Finalist]; Rome [R16]; Madrid [Semifinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 651
In the space of a month, Roger Federer had muscled his way between the shoulders of Nadal and Djokovic to re-establish himself as many people’s favorite for Wimbledon.
His aggression in beating Djokovic in Paris before pushing Nadal hard in the title match showed an impressive surge just at the right time.
Bypassing his usual Halle appearance, he arrived at Wimbledon rested and ready to equal Pete Sampras’s seven titles. Winning Wimbledon was, he said, “a huge priority.”
And he laid on the style in the first four rounds, beating the class of Nalbandian and an inspired Youzhny on the way, and surged out to a two sets lead against Tsonga. But one loose service game at the start of the third turned the match upside down.
Federer hit only seven unforced errors in the remaining three sets but had not a single break point chance. He exited from Wimbledon in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row.
He now heads into dangerous waters. The second half of last year on the hard courts was hugely successful for him: titles in Cincinnati, Stockholm, Basel and the WTFs; finals in Toronto and Shanghai; semis in the U.S. Open and Paris.
With so many points at stake, he can no longer afford a “Tsonga lapse” against any of the hungry players lining up behind him.
Federer hasn’t played Davis Cup since September 2009, but he plays his 19th tie for Switzerland this week.
If the photos coming out of the practise sessions are anything to go by, he has put any Wimbledon disappointment behind him ahead of the tie against Portugal.
Then he heads to North America for the Rogers Cup where he lost in the final last year to Murray. He did, incidentally, beat Djokovic both there, in Shanghai, in Basel and in London, and he remains the only man thus far to beat Djokovic this year.
Last Power Ranking: NR; ATP Ranking: 14
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Semifinalist]; Eastbourne [R16]; London Queen’s [Semifinalist]; Roland Garros [R32]
Power Ranking Points: 782
It looks as though the exuberant Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who thrilled the tennis world with his inspired brand of tennis at the Australian Open of 2008 has finally rediscovered his old self. And he has done so in the most unusual way: by separating with his coach of seven years and running free.
“I want to be spontaneous and not have any outside influence. I just want to be me.”
There were a few raised eyebrows at his decision but the Frenchman has disproved the doubters. As soon as his feet felt the grass, his game took off and London was treated to the old leaping, volleying and diving Tsonga of old.
At Queen’s, he beat Nadal—after losing a first set tiebreak—with a display of power hitting leavened by creative net play, and he almost did the same against Murray in the final.
In Wimbledon’s second round, he applied his new-found fitness to a long exhibition of a match against the rising star Grigor Dimitrov, and in the fourth, he beat Ferrer in straights.
He then peaked with a near-perfect performance against a Federer who made only 11 unforced errors in their entire five-set match yet still came away the loser.
Even against the Teflon-coated Djokovic, Tsonga forced two tiebreaks, winning one of them 11 points to 9. He lost the match, but in many ways, he found himself.
Tsonga heads to the clay of Germany with French Davis Cup colleagues Monfils, Gasquet and Michael Llodra. It’s a strong squad: Nos. 7, 11, 14 and 28 in the world rankings.
The surface may suit Gasquet and Monfils better, but with Tsonga’s current form and Llodra reaching the Wimbledon fourth-round before also falling to Djokovic, the French should advance to the semis despite facing a good German line-up of Florian Mayer and the two Philipps, Kohlschreiber and Petzschner.
Last Power Ranking: 4; ATP Ranking: 4
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Semifinalist]; London Queen’s [Winner]; Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Rome [Semifinalist].
Power Ranking Points: 972
Murray had a look about him ahead of Wimbledon that suggested he was minded to break his slam duck.
He seemed more relaxed and less pressured by the hype of home expectations, and he played some of his finest tennis of the year in thrashing Roddick at Queen’s a week before.
And for the third year in a row, he reached the semifinals with barely a waver: just two sets dropped along the way.
For the third time, he then faced Nadal: In 2008 they met in the quarters, last year the semis. For the first time, however, Murray opened the better and took the opening set. Then Nadal got an opening in the second, and the momentum was lost.
The good news for Murray is that both here, on the clay of Monte Carlo, and on the hard courts of the WTFs, he pushed Nadal harder and closer than he has done before.
It means he has something to build on with what looks like a promising coaching setup with an Adidas team that includes Darren Cahill.
As title holder in Toronto, Murray has points to defend in the first of the U.S. Masters but, longer term, he must be eyeing the U.S. Open, where he lost surprisingly early last year, for his next major breakthrough.
Murray has joined the G.B. Davis Cup team in its campaign to rejoin World Group One. Even better, the tie is in his homeland of Scotland.
After that, Murray will head for his usual training block in Miami before defending his Rogers Cup title.
Last Power Ranking: 1; ATP Ranking: 2
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Finalist]; London Queen’s [Quarterfinalist]; Roland Garros [Winner]; Rome [Finalist].
Power Ranking Points: 1686
The world of tennis rankings is a ruthless business. Although Federer held Djokovic off Nadal’s back at the French Open, it became almost inevitable that the Serb would eventually gain more points than Nadal even if the Spaniard retained all his 2010 titles.
Now Nadal is, it seems, where he used to have Federer: facing a puzzle in the shape of Djokovic.
They both serve at a high percentage, move well and have physical stamina and mental resilience. The Serb, though, has a web of tactical weapons that seems able to neutralise some of Nadal’s usual advantages.
He can fire ground strokes into the corners with pin-point accuracy and reliability both down the line and cross court and with both forehand and backhand.
And while the Serb’s sleek, efficient backhand can counter Nadal’s favourite forehand play, Djokovic can also throw in rhythm-breaking drop shots, volleys or lobs.
Nadal summed up the problem he faces: “When one player beat you five times, is because my game don’t bother him a lot…Find solutions, that’s what I have to try.”
It was a tired Nadal who left Queen’s in the quarterfinals and a subdued Nadal who left the Wimbledon final. A foot injury will at least give him the chance to rest and the time to work on that solution.
No Davis Cup for Nadal, though he made that decision before injuring his foot against Del Potro. An MRI scan after that fourth-round encounter confirmed that the problem was not a serious one.
However, Nadal has since announced that he may miss up to six weeks on the tour to heal a hairline fracture.
That will take him to the next Masters, the Rogers Cup in Montreal. It’s worth remembering, however, that his schedule was just the same last year—and he reached the semis in Toronto and went on to win his first U.S. Open
Last Power Ranking: 3; ATP Ranking: 1
Last Four Tournaments: Wimbledon [Winner]; Roland Garros [Semifinalist]; Rome [Winner]; Madrid [Winner].
Power Ranking Points: 2380
Novak Djokovic stands 2,000 points clear of the man he overtook to become No.1 in the world for the first time. How fitting that the changing of the guard came at the tournament he dreamed of winning as a child, the jewel in the crown of the slams.
There was a certain inevitability to his dual success: his 48-to-1 win-loss record, two sams and four Masters titles and victory over the reigning champion and world No. 1 in five consecutive finals.
It has, of course, all been said before.
Also remarkable, though, is that only one man in the top 100 has played fewer tournaments than Djokovic in the last 12 months—the sidelined Juan Carlos Ferrero. Even the injury-blighted David Nalbandian and Del Potro have played two and four more tournaments respectively.
Djokovic—supremely athletic, impossibly flexible, able to defend and attack with equal facility, play baseline and net with equal dexterity and blessed with a tactical brain that burrows into the slightest weakness of an opponent’s game—has become the most complete player on the tour.
Physically he is greyhound-lean and ox-healthy. Mentally, he has reined in the jokes and largely banished the self-doubts. All his energies are now channelled into the job in hand.
He has, for the moment at least, redefined the men’s game to such an extent that even Nadal has committed to going back to the drawing board to find a solution to the Serb.
It was a long time coming, but Djokovic has come of age, and it could be some time before anyone knocks him from his lofty pedestal.
Djokovic freely admits that the main launch-pad to his 2011 success was the self-belief he drew from winning the Davis Cup last December. He has a patriotic fervor matched by few, and he wants to be part of a winning Serbian team again.
Djokovic is therefore headlining the same winning squad against a Soderling-less Sweden, so his progress to the semis looks guaranteed.
His next scheduled event—allowing him a decent rest and recuperation period—is the Rogers Cup in Montreal.
The power rankings list the in-form players based on recent results. The season-long series is authored by JA Allen, Marianne Bevis and Feng Rong, whose formula informs the rankings.