With a sensational Wimbledon finished and the North American hardcourt season rearing into view, it is a good time to consider the state of play on the ATP tour. In this first of two parts Michael Hale looks at the top four men in the rankings.
Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray have all picked up one Grand Slam title apiece this year. Will one of them bag a second at Flushing Meadow or can David Ferrer make a surprise breakthrough to ensure that the major titles are shared evenly for a second successive season?
Novak Djokovic (1)
Contradictions abound when considering the Serb’s position at the moment. Djokovic still sits clear at the top of the rankings but rivals are now in a position to challenge for the end-of-year spot. In reaching the Wimbledon final he achieved his second best performance at the All-England Club yet suffered a straight sets loss at a Grand Slam for the first time in three years and has now lost three of the past four major finals he has contested.
The good news for Djokovic is that the tour is heading back onto his preferred hardcourts and, having contested the US Open final for the past three years, there is a good chance there will be an opportunity to improve his overall slam final record from 6-5. Winning a seventh title would move him past Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg in the Open-era reckoning for major titles and draw him level with John McEnroe and Mats Willander while keeping the number one ranking for 14 more weeks would see him pass Nadal’s 102 weeks in the top spot. With a win in New York, 2013 can still be a great year for Djokovic and it is a measure of his stature in the game today that anything less would be a disappointment to him.
Andy Murray (2)
Murray is coming off the most significant triumph of his career. Although the US Open last year was strictly speaking of equal importance, winning Wimbledon will free Murray from a unique dose of suffocating pressure every summer. The Scot is still a meagre 2-5 in Grand Slam finals but by winning two of his last three, all against Djokovic, he has established his place at the top table and gained some measure of ascendancy over his Serbian rival.
Murray currently holds two of the four Grand Slams but will start his US Open defence in late August. Last season he only made the round of 16 in both the Cincinnati Masters and the Rogers Cup (Canada Masters) so he has the potential to make further inroads to Djokovic’s lead in the rankings at those tournaments. A successful defence at Flushing Meadow would put Murray in position to challenge, along with Nadal and Djokovic, for end-of-season number one. However he is hampered somewhat by his low points tally from the European clay season (including the absence from Roland Garros) and the best window of opportunity to reach the top spot may come in the first half of 2014. At that point he will still retain the points from his Wimbledon win and will have had a chance to override some average performances.
David Ferrer (3)
Ferrer’s current career high ranking of number three has been built on the back of a series of excellent performances in the biggest events. Many commentators suggested Ferrer’s career best 2012 would represent a high water mark for the Spaniard but he has raised the bar once more so far this year. So far he has equalled or exceeded his best performance at each of the three Grand Slams, including reaching a first major final at Roland Garros.
The loss in straight sets to Juan Martin del Potro at the Wimbledon quarter-final stage was cast in better light by del Potro’s superb form against Djokovic in the following round. Now firmly ensconced in the top four, Ferrer will continue to benefit from high seedings. Given his relatively poor record against some of the very top players it is hard to rate Ferrer as a real possibility for the US Open title but he has a good shot at gaining enough points to take another step towards his best end-of-year ranking yet.
Rafael Nadal (4)
Nadal’s exultant return to tennis came off the rails somewhat with a first round exit at Wimbledon at the hands of Steve Darcis. Post-match the two-time Wimbledon winner said adjusting to the lower body positions required on grass courts was difficult. Nadal even hinted that the grass court season may not be a long term proposition for him anymore, saying: “I gonna try my best for the next couple of years”.
Despite his early exit in SW19 and missing the Australian Open, Nadal is still leading this season’s race to London thanks to his outstanding form through the clay court season. Away from the clay, he won the Indian Wells Masters on hardcourts which bodes well for the upcoming North American swing.
Nadal is still scheduled to play the Roger’s Cup and according to his uncle and coach Toni Nadal he is currently doing physical training but no court workouts at present.
If Nadal can recapture his pre-Wimbledon form, he has a good chance of challenging Djokovic and Murray for the end-of-season number one spot. In order for Nadal to make it, given the lack of points from Wimbledon, he will likely need to perform better during the latter half of the year than he has since 2010.
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