You could be forgiven for imagining this is 2008 in men’s tennis. It’s actually 2018 – and Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer are still battling for the prestigious year-end no. 1 ranking towards the end of a long tennis season. All the four Grand Slams have been completed, and there are two major Masters 1000 tournaments left to snap up this year. With Djokovic enjoying a second-wind in his phenomenal career, it isn’t a foregone conclusion anymore that Nadal will end the year at the top of the rankings again. At one point it even looked like a healthy Juan Martin Del Potro would compete for the spot, but his injury means that he could even struggle to participate in the season-ending Masters at London.

CURRENT STANDINGS

At the moment, Rafael Nadal leads the ATP rankings with 7660 points. He has led for most of the year – this is his 194th week at number 1. Federer led briefly for a few weeks back in February and March, but Nadal’s strong showing at the French Open and Wimbledon nullified his failure to retain the US Open title. However, at the Shanghai Masters last week, Federer was demoted to no. 3 after Novak Djokovic – who won his fourth title (and second Masters 1000 title) of the season at Shanghai – rose to no. 2 in the rankings. Federer fell in the semifinals to Borna Coric, a man who has beaten him twice this year, and failed to defend his title. Djokovic has won all his four titles since his surprise Wimbledon victory, and has shot up the rankings because he didn’t have any points to defend from his 2017 season (in which he pulled out of the second half due to injury and mental issues). Everything Djokovic wins now will add to his tally – which means his tally of 7445 points is likely to increase the moment he wins a match at the Paris Masters at the end of October. Federer is pretty much out of the race with 6260 points and a Basel title to defend. If Djokovic plays at Basel, with Nadal injured, he is likely to end the tournament as the World no. 1 – starting his 224th week at the top of the rankings.

ATP RACE TO LONDON

The top 8 tennis players of the year qualify for the season-ending World Tour Finals in London. Four have already qualified – Nadal, Djokovic, Del Potro and Federer. Here, Nadal is leading by a mere 35 points. He is on 7480 points with one Grand Slam title and three Masters 1000 titles. Djokovic is on 7445 points with two Grand Slam titles and two Masters titles – and is likely to end at the top of this race too. Del Potro is third by a distance with 5300 points, while Federer is on 5160 points. The difference between Alexander Zverev in fifth (4770 points) and Dominic Thiem in eighth (3535 points) is a mere 1200. Which means the Paris Masters and a couple of ATP 500 tournaments in Vienna and Basel will hold great significance for those who want to qualify.

TOURNAMENTS REMAINING

Technically, there are 8 tennis tournaments left on the men’s ATP calendar. This is when everyone else will be fighting for scraps. Traditionally some of the most surprising results of the season have occurred at the Paris Masters – where the top players are usually tired and have already qualified for London, leaving the second tier to fight for the title. Last season Jack Sock was a shock winner – a title that confirmed his underdog run to the World Tour Finals in London. This season, players like Dominic Thiem, Kei Nishikori (in 9th) and even John Isner (in 10th) will give it their best shot in Paris.
But it could well be that Rafael Nadal will return to action there, while Novak Djokovic tries to thwart his attempt to finish as the World no. 1 for the fifth time in his career. Djokovic has already finished on top 5 times, while Federer leads with six. Much will depend on the World Tour Finals for a tired Nadal – a tournament he has never won. Two seasons ago, this tournament is what it came down to for the no. 1 ranking between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic, who faced off in the final match of the season with a lot on the line. It could well be the same this season.

PREDICTION

Novak Djokovic will win at least two of the three tournaments he is scheduled to play. He will be back at the top after losing his no. 1 spot exactly two years ago. Federer will only play at Basel and in London, while Nadal’s body will determine his schedule. 2019 might well be a one-way street (like 2014 and 2015), unless a youngster decides to grab the moment. Djokovic is set to rule for at least another season, and not even Nadal might be able to stop that.
1. Djokovic 2. Nadal 3. Federer