Roger Federer climbed back to No. 2 in the rankings this week after Rafael Nadal’s early loss in Shanghai and his own title win, and is within striking distance of ending the 2014 tennis season as No. 1 on the ATP rankings.
The Swiss’ win in Shanghai means he now has 8,020 points in the ATP race to London and is only 990 points behind first placed Novak Djokovic, a strong position to be in with 3500 ranking points up for grabs at his next 3 events.
With only 1060 points to defend in his remaining three events, plus points from his Davis Cup final appearance, Federer now has a chance to overtake the Serbian who must be feeling shaken confidence wise after Federer’s convincing win over him in Shanghai. Djokovic also has a much tougher road ahead of him when it comes to defending points on his ranking- the Serb has 2,500 points to defend the rest of the season. How that pressure combined with the pressure of knowing an in-form Federer is so close behind him in the rankings and the distraction of his soon to be born child, affects Djokovic will also be an important factor.
Anyone who had said at the start of the 2014 season that Roger Federer had a chance of finishing world No. 1 in the ATP rankings might have been called accused of knowing nothing about tennis. At the start of the season, the Swiss was ranked world No. 8 and suffered a humiliating loss to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the Australian Open. Though he had taken on Stefan Edberg as his coach and adopted a more aggressive style of play, and the results were there to see in Melbourne as he crushed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Andy Murray in Melbourne, Federer was not able to execute against Nadal as he was forced into the passive and error prone role he often does against the Spaniard. Post match, the feeling was that while progress had been made- it had been a year since Federer played a slam semi-final- Federer was still not able to perform his attacking game for an entire match against Nadal.
However, as Nadal, ranked No. 2 since Monday July 7th this year, struggled with form, the two did not meet the rest of the season, and Federer went on a roll. His decision to approach the net whenever the opportunity struck, a rare tactic in the sport, paid off. He won the Dubai title, reached the Indian Wells final (lost to Djokovic), made the Monte Carlo final (lost to Wawrinka), won Halle, made the Wimbledon final (lost to Djokovic), finished runner up in Toronto (lost to Tsonga) and won Cincinnati and reached the last four at the U.S Open before his run to the Shanghai title, climbing all the way back up to No. 2 in the process.
Now only Djokovic stands in his way. However, the Wimbledon Champion’s beating in Shanghai suggests he might not be that difficult to overtake at the top of the ATP rankings. Djokovic has only Paris and the WTFs ahead of him, and if current form is anything to go by, he could face Federer in either final but only if he gets to that stage. Federer, however, has a stronger chance of reaching the finals or winning Basel next week, and making the finals of both Paris and London than the Serb does- Federer has made three of the last four finals of the events he has entered while Djokovic has made only one.
Only if Djokovic can produce the kind of tennis he did to play and win that final in Beijing against Berdych can he protect his No 1 ranking and finish top of the year end ATP rankings for the third time since 2011. Berdych said after the match, in which he was thrashed 0-6, 2-6, that Djokoivic was the best player he had ever competed against. And the Serb will have to compete at his best against Federer if they clash in either the Paris Bercy or WTF London finals. Federer has the confidence in his game and his new racket, and he has, perhaps most crucially, the momentum, to topple Djokovic at both those events and if Djokovic is at all distracted by the birth of his future child then Federer will finish world No. 1 on the ATP rankings for the sixth time (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009), the first time for five years, and the only time in the same year that he has never won a slam.
Commentary by Christian Deverille