At the French Open, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic contested their fourth major final in a row, seemingly set to battle each other for supremacy for some time to come. Fast forward two months and not only is Roger Federer Wimbledon champion and number one, but Andy Murray has an Olympic gold medal hanging round his neck as he looks to overhaul Nadal for third place in the rankings.
Short term change is all very well but what is the underlying position? The season’s narrative will soon take another leap forward with the US Open, but the true picture may not be clear until the end of season championships in London.
This is a rare state of affairs; every previous season since 2005 has seen a player win two of the first three grand slam events of the year and go on to secure the end of year number one ranking in autumn. This year the three majors have gone to three different players (Djokovic, Nadal and Federer) and, although the Olympic title only carries 750 ranking points, Murray winning gold has muddied the water further.
There is the possibility that the cathartic Olympic victory over Federer will act as a catalyst for the Scot in a similar way to Djokovic’s Davis Cup win with Serbia in 2010 did for him. Murray is likely the most confident player on the tour right now and his growing legion of fans will be hoping he can maintain his positive mindset and get that first grand slam title in New York.
In that eventuality this season would be the first since 2003 in which the four major titles are won by four different men. The end of year number one ranking could be up for grabs right to the season end in London. Djokovic, Nadal and Federer have already qualified for the end-of-year championships, while Murray stands only a few hundred points short of the current qualification mark of 5715. The final qualification total is likely to be significantly lower; Mardy Fish took the eighth spot last year with 2,965 points.
So who else is looking to make the end of year top eight and qualify for London?
With Murray appearing to be on the verge of turning the big three into a big four, Juan Martin del Potro will be hoping there might be room for a fifth man in the elite group. Unlike Murray, del Potro already has a slam title and was approaching the form that saw him triumph at the 2009 US Open during his epic Olympic semi-final against Federer last week. With 3435 points, the Argentine is currently in sixth place in the race for London (and is up to number eight in the official rankings) and barring injury will surely make the cut. It would be his second appearance at the end of year championships, having previously been losing finalist in 2009.
David Ferrer is another player with an excellent chance to qualify and, in fifth place with 4110 points earned so far, has possibly done enough to do so already. The Spaniard’s consistency has seen him reach the semi-finals of Roland Garros and the quarter-finals of the Australian Open and Wimbledon while performing solidly in Masters tournaments and winning five smaller tournaments. His best performances have probably been the straight sets dismissal of del Potro at Wimbledon and defeating Murray in the Roland Garros quarter-finals.
The seventh and eighth positions in the race are currently held by Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych with 2855 and 2760 points respectively. With a Masters event in Paris to come in October, Tsonga will be confident picking up the necessary points and his many London-based followers will relish the chance to cheer him on at the 02, where he was losing finalist last year. Meanwhile Berdych, after a decent start to the year, has seen his form flatline in recent months with first round losses at Wimbledon and the Olympics. If this continues through the US Open series, the Czech will have to rely on his usually strong indoor play during the autumn to seal his place.
Behind Berdych are Nicolas Almagro with 2705 points and Janko Tipsarevic with 2500, who will need to outperform Tsonga and Berdych till the end of the season if they are to qualify. Players further down the list need a break out performance, a good run at Flushing Meadow or the remaining Masters events, to get in contention.
Towards the season’s end the top players have been known to skip an event or two in order to rest having already qualified for the end-of-year finale. This means the likes of Juan Monaco (2155 points), John Isner (2090) and those further down the race standings may have more chance to score heavily in the last few events before London. Also injuries to tired players at the end of season means finishing ninth or tenth can be enough to qualify. Milos Raonic is some way off the pace for now but is showing signs he may be on the verge of breaking through against the top players and could be a late bolter for one of the final spots.
Whoever makes it, the tour finals should be full of compelling matches as the top players face-off. To keep you going till then, here are the highlights from Federer’s classic encounter with David Nalbandian in the final of the 2005 end-of-year championship.