The question whether Rafael Nadal can recover his number one ranking should be split up into two parts:
(i) Can he recover it by year-end?
(ii) Can he recover it sometime in the future?
The answer to (i) is : Most probably No. In fact unless something unexpected happens to Djokovic, it is difficult for the Spaniard to overtake the Serb in ranking points by year-end.
Their year-to-date points are Djokovic: 9695 and Nadal: 7635 i.e. the Spaniard is lagging behind by 2060 points.
Assuming he wins both US Open and WTF (winning all his round robin matches) and Djokovic is a runner-up, he would make up only1300 points. So he will have to split the remaining tournaments with Djokovic and beat him in two Masters.
Is this, based on past records, a likely scenario?
The last part of the year isn't Nadal's best and Djokovic is excellent on hard courts. Besides there are others like Juan Martin Del Potro and Andy Murray, not to forget Roger Federer, who are formidable on hard courts.
So let us consider the second question.
It is very difficult to answer either way. One might say the key to the answer would lie in whether the Spaniard is able to find an answer to the Djokovic riddle. But even this would not give us the answer for the excellent reason that there are other players in the mix who could complicate the Nadal-Djokovic duopoly model.
As mentioned earlier, we have Del Potro and Murray who are potential greats. Del Potro has already won one slam and Murray is yet to win one. But on their day, these two are capable of beating anyone.
It is even possible that one of these two may not only spike Nadal or Djokovic's chances of winning a slam but by suddenly becoming hot as the Serb did this year, either of them could seize the top ranking next year.
Then we have Roger Federer who is past his prime and can no longer be expected to consistently beat the field i.e. he may suddenly lose to a Berdych or a Tsonga. But on his day he is still capable of beating the best.
So the algorithm becomes too complex, though if Nadal does solve the Djokoviic problem, his chances of winning back his top ranking become very much brighter.
Based, however, just on Nadal and Djokovic's past record of consistency, one can give Nadal at least a 50% chance of recovering the top spot.
A clue to what lies ahead could possibly be available when the top players go through the rest of the season.
However, whoever wins the ranking battle, one thing is certain, exciting times are ahead for the tennis fan and he will be the true winner.
Spaniard Rafael Nadal ended last year as the World no. 1 sitting atop a pile of ranking points. He was the winner of three Masters titles, three grand slam titles in a row and runner up in the world tour final.
No one would have imagined that about six months later he would have lost five times to the same player, viz Novak Djokovic in finals. Shockingly, two of the losses came on clay, long considered his fiefdom. Worse still, he lost in the final of Wimbledon disproving the myth that, after 2008, he is unbeatable in grand slam finals.
In the process, the Spaniard has also lost his No. 1 ranking to Novak Djokovic who had started the year with a bang by winning the Australian Open. The Spaniard has one Grand Slam, one Masters and one ATP 500 title. The Serb has titles from two Grand Slams, four Masters, one ATP 500 and one 250 event.
The Spaniard is the winner of ten grand slam titles and has held the top year-end ranking in 2008 and 2010.