There is something not quite right in the tennis world as the American hard-court season turns the corner heading into New York City. Since February of 2004, no man other than Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal has been ranked World No. 1 in Men’s Tennis––almost 400 weeks.
Now, there is an interloper posing as the new top gun. Or is he? Could Novak Djokovic be the new king of Men’s Tennis?
That is what the next few months will tell us, starting with the upcoming US Open, which will get underway at the end of August. Who has the best chance of moving ahead or falling behind in the never-ending race to become the new World No. 1 in Men’s Tennis?
Novak Djokovic: Wearing the Bulls-Eye
Reigning as the new World No. 1, Djokovic leads Rafael Nadal by 1,885 points. Neither has played on the ATP tour since the Wimbledon Championships concluded in early July. During that final, Djokovic defeated the defending champion, Nadal, securing the No. 1 ranking.
During the 2010 hard-court run-up to the US Open, the Serb played in both Toronto and Cincinnati—the summer’s two premiere Masters tournaments. Last year in Canada, Djokovic survived to the semifinals, where he lost to Roger Federer. That was worth 360 ranking points.
In Cincinnati, Djokovic met and lost to Andy Roddick in the 2010 quarterfinals, worth 180 ranking points. Then, at the 2010 US Open, the Serb made it to the finals, losing to Rafael Nadal. That added another 1,200 ATP ranking points.
In total, Djokovic has 1,740 points to defend during the remaining US hard-court season. Djokovic’s ability to add to his total, or to maintain the points he has accumulated, must be regarded as very good at this point because the Serb traditionally plays his very best on this synthetic surface.
Rafael Nadal: Leaping Back on the Merry-Go-Round
Trailing Novak Djokovic by 1,885 points, the ability to gain points and overtake the Serb is practically non-existent for Nadal this summer. Like Djokovic, Nadal entered both Toronto and Cincinnati before playing in the US Open in late August/early September.
Similarly, Nadal advanced to the semifinals in Canada, losing to Andy Murray in straight sets, which gave the Majorcan 360 ranking points. Then, in Cincinnati, the former World No. 1 met and lost to Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis in the quarterfinals, adding 180 ranking points.
Nadal won his first US Open title last summer, defeating Djokovic in the final, giving the Majorcan an additional 2,000 points. In total, Nadal must defend 2,540 points this summer.
Only if Nadal wins the two tournaments in Canada and Cincinnati and Djokovic loses both before the third round, could Nadal overtake the Serb before the US Open. At the US Open, Nadal must win the tournament to retain his current point count. He would have to win it all, and hope Djokovic went out very early in Flushing Meadows, to have a chance.
But chances are that Djokovic will not collapse and lose early during the hard-court season. The real challenge for Nadal will not be to overtake Djokovic, but to defend his own position as the World No. 2.
Still, nothing is impossible. If sheer determination will win the day, no one has more “will to win” than Rafael Nadal.
Roger Federer: Running in Place, Holding His Own
Roger Federer is 3,625 points behind Djokovic sitting at No. 1, and 1,740 points behind World No. 2 Rafael Nadal. There is no way Federer could overtake Djokovic at the No. 1 spot during the US hard-court season, but the Swiss is within remote shouting distance of Nadal.
Federer played in Toronto and Cincinnati last summer, making the finals of both tournaments. He lost to Andy Murray in the finals of the Roger’s Cup and won the tournament in Cincinnati, defeating Mardy Fish in a hard-fought contest. That means in these two tournaments alone the Swiss must defend 1,600 points and can only add 400 points by winning both Masters titles in 2011.
At the 2010 US Open, Federer advanced to the semifinals where he lost to Novak Djokovic in five sets. This gave Federer 720 ranking points. In total for the 2010 US hard-court season, Federer must defend 2,320 points.
The only substantial way Federer can gain or surpass Nadal for the No. 2 spot is by winning the US Open and not losing any points in Montreal and Cincinnati. That would allow the Swiss to gain 1,280 points at the US Open, but it would also deny Nadal repeating as champion and he would lose at least 800 points. In this scenario, Nadal would fall to No. 3 and Federer would rise to No. 2.
The Swiss cannot surpass Djokovic in this brief time span; there is a very narrow window for Federer to retake the No. 2 spot.
Andy Murray: Swimming the Vast Channel
World No. 4, Andy Murray, has fallen behind Djokovic by 6,450 points; he is 4,565 points behind World No. 2 Rafael Nadal. There is no way Murray can catch either of these Top Two—at least in the short term.
Murray, however, trails World No. 3 Federer by 2,825. It should be the Scot’s first priority to overtake the Swiss as the two move in earnest into the US hard-court season. At this point, the Scot has a weak shot at overtaking Federer as World No. 3.
During the US hard-court season in 2010, Murray participated in the Farmer’s Classic in Los Angeles, where he lost in the finals to Sam Querry. Murray forfeited 150 points because the Scot chose not to compete in LA this summer.
Murray went on to win the 2010 ATP Masters in Toronto, defeating Federer in the final. That added 1,000 points to his ranking total. During August of 2010 in Cincinnati, Murray lost to American Mardy Fish in the quarterfinals and was awarded an additional 180 ranking points.
At the US Open, Murray lost early, going out in the third round to Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka, earning only 90 points for his short-circuited effort. For Murray, that means that altogether he has only 1,420 points to defend during the 2011 US hard-court season.
By winning the 2011 US Open, Murray would re-coup 1,910 points. Federer may still maintain a lead of 765 points should that happen, even if the Scot wins it all in New York City.
But Murray could add to his ranking points considerably by doing well during the American hard-court season, bringing him closer to the Top Three players and better able to take advantage in 2012.
The Final Tally
The ability for any player to overtake Djokovic as World No. 1 will not really materialize until 2012, when Djokovic will be forced to defend his current seven-month 48-1 winning record. Only when the Serb is forced to defend the ranking points won during this remarkable run will any other player be able overtake Djokovic.
In the meantime, the other Top Three players wait, biding their time, hoping for a crack in the Serbian armor as Djokovic stands atop the mountain with a bulls-eye on his back.