Novak Djokovic could reclaim the ATP no.1 Ranking in Madrid next week. The Serbian last sat at the top spot on Oct. 6 2013 before his biggest rival Rafael Nadal dethroned him.
Fortunately for Djokovic, the timing could not have been better, the dethroning coming in time for one of Djokovic’s traditionally most successful parts of the season, the Asian swing and then the European indoor tournaments. Djokovic played his best tennis of the season as he won the ATP 500 tournament in Beijing, ATP 1000 events in Shanghai and Paris and the ATP World Tour Finals in London, putting together an impressive 19 match winning streak. And while he finished no. 2 in the world, his final match of the season saw him comprehensively beat Nadal in the final.
While Djokovic did not win the Australian Open, a surprise considering his strong form and status as three-time defending Champion, he did clean up in the North American Spring swing, winning back-to-back ATP 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami. Again that winning streak saw him thrash Rafael Nadal who he beat for the loss of six games in the Sony Open final.
A confident Djokovic went on a tear through the Monte Carlo draw all the way to the semi-finals where an in-form Roger Federer and a wrist injury put an end to his 15 match winning streak. The injury could not have come at a worse time. Highly motivated to capture the French Open, the one Slam to elude him, Djokovic has talked of a more relaxed approach to the Clay season than in previous years when he put too much pressure on himself. Now, he will not want to put too much pressure on his wrist, a factor which may play in the back of his mind and make him vulnerable to an early defeat like the one he suffered at the same event to Grigor Dimitrov in the third round last season.
There will be plenty of players eager to mirror Dimitrov’s achievement at this year’s tournament. Wawrinka for one. The 2013 runner-up is in the form of his career and is the recent Monte Carlo Champion. In that final he beat two-time Madrid winner Federer, another threat to Djokovic’s title and no. 1 hopes, whose game thrives in the high altitude that produces a lower bounce than the springier kind seen on the clay courts of Monte-Carlo, Rome or Paris.
Luckily for Djokivic, plenty of players will also be keen to take advantage of a vulnerable Nadal and knock him out before the last eight. However, while Nadal is in a slump, losing in the quarters in Barcelona and Monte-Carlo, his going out in his first couple of rounds is a long shot. The last time Nadal lost so early in a Clay Masters 1000 event was in the second round of Rome in 2008 when Juan Carlos Ferrero beat him in straight sets. But, then again, Nadal had not been beaten in Barcelona since 2004 until a couple of weeks ago so that 2008 Rome scenario could play out again in Madrid if a still shaky Nadal comes up against an on-form player of the likes of Dimitrov, Nishikori, Haas or Gulbis. Players who will make the most of the low bouncing, faster conditions to grab a famous victory.
Indeed, Djokovic could not have chosen a better setting than Madrid in which to get his chance to reclaim the ATP no.1 ranking. Madrid is Nadal’s least successful ATP 1000 Clay event, the high altitude depriving him of the high-bouncing topspin conditions he is so fond of. Meanwhile. those conditions favor Djokovic. If Nadal and Djokovic meet in the final, a repeat of Djokovic’s 2011 victory over the Spaniard would not be a surprise. And while Djokovic would not get back to no. 1, he would get a fourth consecutive win over his rival, a win that would boost his confidence and chances of reclaiming the top spot in the upcoming ATP 1000 event in Rome.
Commentary by Christian Deverille