Roger Federer – the new World Number One?
What may have seemed impossible just a few short months ago could now be a distinct possibility. After winning the Mutua Madrid Open title on the contraversial Blue Clay, Roger Federer has reclaimed the World Number Two ranking ahead of Rafael Nadal for the first time in 14 months. A feat almost unimaginable when he fell to fourth in the rankings back in October of last year.
You may ask what motivation the 16-time Grand Slam Champion has to get back to somewhere he’s already spent the best part of a decade. Well, allow me to explain.
Recently the Tennis Channel acclaimed Roger Federer as the Greatest Player of All Time, and with a resume that boasts a whole host of records and achievements including 16 Grand Slams, four consecutive multi-Grand Slams years, three Grand Slams in a calender year on no less than three occasions, 31 consecutive Grand Slam quarter-final appearances and 285 weeks as the number one player in the world, who would argue?
Well, Pete Sampras might.
Because, despite all these seemingly insurmountable figures, one is not only equaled, but surpassed by the great American by a single week. When Pete Sampras was replaced by Marat Safin as the world number one back in November of 2000, he had accumulated an incredible 286 weeks as the world’s top player over a seven year period. This eclipsed the previous record held by Ivan Lendl of 270 set a decade earlier.
With seemingly perfect symmetry, it would be almost exactly a decade after Pistol Pete raised the bar that Roger Federer looked on course to nudge it further, as he began his quarter-final at the 2010 French Open.
The man he faced was the very same man he defeated in the final just one year earlier, Swede Robin Soderling. Federer began the match with a cushion of over 3,000 ATP ranking points over his arch nemesis Rafael Nadal, and was just one week shy of Pete’s record.
Beating the Swede, who he had dispatched off a perfect 12 straight times, was all that stood between Federer and Sampras’ elusive record, but as history will recall, that was a bridge too far. Federer lost, and with it 1,640 ATP points he was defended from 2009. Rafael Nadal, defending just 180 points from his disappointing 2009 campaign where he too had succumb to a shock defeat from the hard-hitting Swede, took the title, and with it 2000 ATP points. The 3460 point swing was enough to displace Federer at the top of the rankings, and the Great Swiss has not been back since.
Nadal followed up his sixth French Open crown by claiming the 2010 Wimbledon and the US Open titles. The following year, Novak Djokovic went on a run to challenge anyone in history, and it seemed as though the door to 286 was closed for good.
That was until the fall of 2011 when Roger Federer seemed to get a second wind. Or was it his third?
On September 12, 2011, upon the conclusion of Novak Djokovic’s third Grand Slam title of the year at the US Open, the Serbian sat atop of the ATP Tour rankings with 14,720 points, 2,100 points ahead of Rafael Nadal, and a whopping 6,340 points ahead of the Swiss former number one. An ever-expanding gulf that showed no signs of shrinking.
In fact, the gap was so massive that the point difference between Djokovic and Federer would be enough points to surpass David Ferrer at number 5, who had only 4,200 points.
However, after his narrow loss to Djokovic at the US Open, the Fed Express went on a run of seven tournament wins in ten starts, cutting the difference into a quarter – down to just 1,770 points, with a great number of Djokovic’s points up for grabs in the coming months.
So, what would Roger Federer have to do in order to eclipse the Serbian at the top of the ATP Tour rankings?
With Rome next on the schedule and no points to defend for any player due to the rescheduling of the clay court season, every player can only add to their tally.
Essentially, out performing Djokovic will help. Both men are on the same side of the draw, so basically, Federer would want to make the final (assuming no one beats Djokovic on route to the semi’s).
Of course, with Rome playing much slower than Madrid, one would have to assume that Rafael Nadal will be the heavy favorite to take the eventual title, and with it reclaim the number two ranking, but that’s ok for now. In fact, it really doesn’t matter who wins Rome, whether it is Djokovic or Nadal. So let’s assume the worst and the Djokovic takes the title.
From there we move to Roland Garros, where everyone has points to defend. Roger, moreso than Djokovic.
Last year Roger defeated Djokovic in the semi-finals, delaying his rise to the number one spot, earning himself 1,200 points, 480 points more than Djokovic.
So while it appears that Federer is closing the gap, Djokovic is only defending 480 points in the next few weeks, and has the opportunity to win 3,000 if he wins in Rome and at Roland Garros, or 1,800 if he is runner-up at both.
If Federer can win in Rome or at Roland Garros, his chances at becoming number one will be huge, however, I for one do not favor his chances.
His real opportunity to cut off the Serbian comes at what has practically become his home tournament: Wimbledon.
In 2010 Federer lost in the quarter-finals, netting only 360 points, in contrast to Djokovic’s 2,000 for winning the title. If Federer can reclaim the title, he will add a whopping 1,640 points, and assuming Djokovic makes the final, see a ranking swing of 2,440 points over the Serb. However, if Djokovic loses in the semi-finals, that swing will be 2,920 points.
That will almost certainly be enough.
So, if Federer can make the semi-finals in Rome, reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros, then win Wimbledon, beating Djokovic in the semi-finals, Federer will be at 12,150 ATP points. If Djokovic wins Rome, loses in the final of the French, the semi-finals of Wimbledon, he will be sitting on 11,400 points.
Nadal, having been runner-up in Rome, winning the French Open, and reaching the final at Wimbledon, will be at 9,705 points.
Therefore, in order for Roger Federer to regain the world number one ranking by the end of Wimbledon, following needs to happen:
- Make at least the semi-finals of Rome
- Make the semi-finals or better at Roland Garros
- Nadal wins the French Open (of Federer, of course)
- Federer wins Wimbledon
- Djokovic fails to make the final of Wimbledon
Doesn’t seem impossible does it? In fact, it seems very possible, and this is just what could happen in the next couple of months.
When you consider that Federer only claimed 270 of a possible 2,000 points in Canada and Cincinnati in the lead up to last year’s US Open, while Djokovic racked up 1,600, there’s infinite opportunity throughout the year to bridge that gap.
In fact, throughout the north American hard court season beginning after Wimbledon, Novak Djokovic will be defending 3,600 points, Nadal is defending 1,390 points, with Federer defending only 990.
And there’s also the Olympics, which will be held on the Wimbledon lawns in late July, where another 750 ranking points will be up for grabs.
While the current difference appears like large gap to close, the truth is this summer provides as good an opportunity as imaginable for Roger Federer to jump back to the top, and surpass Pete Sampras’ 286 weeks at the top of the ATP Tour rankings.
However, if he fails to pass Djokovic by the end of the US Open, suddenly the shoe will be on the other foot and Federer will begin his daunting task of defending all the points he accumulated this winter.
So will he do it? If you ask me, I think yes.