Congrats Novak Djokovic; Will he be year-end Number 1 as well?
Congrats Novak Djokovic for winning the Rolex Shanghai Masters which is now his 32nd Masters 1000 Crown.
Harold Wilson had said, “A week is a long time in politics”. It is in professional tennis too, and a month is much much longer. Let’s examine how;
Just a month or so back, before the 2018 US Open, it looked as if the world Number 1 position in tennis would be securely with the great Rafa Nadal for quite some time to come and the champion would comfortably retain the end of the year Number 1 spot as well. Rafa was in imperious form, and was way ahead of his great rival Roger Federer who was at Number 2. Novak Djokovic was at Number 6 and as regards points much further behind as well.
However, US Open 2018 provided a glimpse of “back to the future”. A rampaging Novak Djokovic won comprehensively. Roger Federer bowed out in the 4th round, while Rafa Nadal could not finish his semi-final versus Del Potro, and retired after two sets. Novak won the tournament which was his 2nd Grand Slam in a row and his 14th overall.
Rafa at 1, Federer at 2 and Djokovic at 3, this was the position in 2008 and this was the position once again in 2018 after US Open 2018.
Pertinently, Novak had no points to defend and winning US Open gave him a cool 2000 points. Suddenly, from world number 6, he was world number 3. He followed up his US Open success with an amazing Shanghai Masters. He not only won the tournament comfortably, he just brushed aside qualitative opponents. He did not drop serve even once in the entire tournament.
Both backhand and forehand were firing in perfect coordination, balance was awesome and most importantly he played big points well, seemingly being able to improve from a brilliant level to an impossibly higher level at will. To give just one example, the big-serving Kevin Anderson battled to 6-6 in the 1st set but in the tie-break, Novak raised his game to sweep it 7-1 and then strolled through the second set.
It was a record 4th Shanghai Masters for Novak, and interestingly all 4 wins were against different opponents, namely Murray, DelPo, Tsonga and now Borna Coric.
Rafa after retiring from US Open semi-final also missed the Davis Cup semifinals as well. For Rafa, the next 2 important tournaments coming up after the US Open were the Beijing Open which he had won in 2017 and the Shanghai Open where he had lost to Roger in the finals last year. These two tournaments form the main part of the Asian leg of the ATP tour and Rafa Nadal announced that to allow his knee to recover, he would not participate in both these tournaments.
While tennis fans will look forward to a rejuvenated Rafa coming back strongly, his non-participation from these two tournaments meant that he dropped as many as 1100 points. Suddenly his impregnable lead over the number 2 and 3 will now be at a touching distance. Rafa was at 8760 points, 1860 ahead of Roger Federer and 2315 ahead of Novak.
However, with Rafa not playing these two tournaments and dropping 1100 points means his lead has decreased hugely. After Shanghai, Rafa will now be at 7660, Novak at 7445 and Roger at 6300. Novak, from 3 is now at 2, swapping rankings with Roger.
Which other top tournaments are left apart from the World Tour Finals. They are Tokyo, Vienna and Basel (all 3 being ATP 500 tournaments) and Paris Masters which is an ATP 1000 tournament.
Now let us see how many points the Big 3 are defending.
World Number 1 Rafa is defending just 180 points from Paris Masters where he had withdrawn in the Quarter-finals last year. He has no points to defend from the ATP Finals where he lost a match to Goffin and then withdrew. He will be hoping for a good end to the year.
Novak, on the other hand, is defending no points at all since he had skipped the entire last six months of 2017. He, therefore, is at a huge advantageous position, especially considering his imperious form. He has earlier too traditionally done well in the latter part of the year and will be seeking to do so this year as well.
Federer is defending 1100 points, 500 from Basel, where he defeated Del Potro and 600 from the ATP Finals where he won all his three round robin matches. Worryingly for Roger, however, he is losing to players he normally does not to. At the US Open, he lost to Millman. At Shanghai he lost to Borna Coric, that too in straight sets in a completely one-sided encounter. However, he will take solace from the fact that he won some close matches at Shanghai against good opposition, and finished matches well. London is happy hunting ground for him and he will be hoping to do well.
An exciting two months of tennis is ahead. End of the year Number one is one of the top goals of players and it is a terrific situation where both Rafa and Novak have a chance to finish the year at Number 1. Roger would be hoping to win the Paris Masters as well and if he does he has an outside chance as well.
It is possible that we may actually go to the ATP Finals to decide who the end of the year world number 1 will be. It is even possible that it may go down to the final of the WTF, as it was once between Novak and Andy Murray. Last year Rafa Nadal was the end of the year Number 1 and he became so after winning just a single match at the Paris Masters. By doing so Rafa became the oldest end of the year Number 1 in tennis history. This year he will break his own record or his great rivals Federer or Djokovic will claim the record as their own.
Pete Sampras holds the record for Six year-end Number 1. Federer is at 5. Will he join Sampras. Novak and Rafa are at 4 each. Will one of them join Federer at 5. As of now, with no points to defend and in imperious form, it looks like it will be Novak Djokovic. Do u agree?
The blogger, Ritesh Misra, is an IRS Officer currently based in Mumbai. He tweets @riteshmisra. His hobbies are sports, films and music.
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