Novak Djokovic first reached number 1 in the ATP Rankings in July of 2011 and hasn’t been out of the top 2 since. It’s been a constant battle between Djokovic and Rafael Nadal, and now the Spaniard is on top since last October. Has last weekend’s result in Miami proved that it may the Serb’s turn to return to the top though? Eoin Lyons assesses the situation at the peak of men’s tennis.
Anyone watching the final of the most recent Masters 1000 Open in Miami last weekend who was not aware of the current ATP rankings would have easily assumed that it is Novak Djokovic who is number 1 in the world, and not in fact, Rafael Nadal. Novak completely dominated his rival on Sunday, clinching his second title in a row with a confident 6-3 6-3 winning display against the Spaniard. The match was most certainly a confidence boost for Novak. It marked his 43rd career title, and a successful defence of the same crown he clinched this time last year. Rafa on the other hand, must have found the loss to be quite frustrating. The Miami title is one which has eluded Nadal over the years, and he has finished as runner-up an unsettling four times now.
As both competitors came in to the final well rested, thanks to walkovers in the semi-finals, anyone spectating was expecting a classic clash full of intensity. Djokovic fired on all cylinders from the very beginning though, and powered past the Spaniard in just 1 hour and 24 minutes. Nadal quickly acknowledged his was the weaker of the two on court on the day, conceding that the Serbian was simply too difficult to defeat. Although Nadal still leads the head-to-head battle between the two by 22 to 18, there are certainly signs of this rivalry intensifying even further.
Both players have had solid starts to 2014. Nadal opened this year with a title in Doha, following it up by reaching the final of the Australian Open, and confidently winning the Masters 500 title in Rio de Janeiro. Although he was disappointing in Indian Wells, crashing out to Alexander Dolgopolov in the round of 32, Nadal’s match record for this year is 21-3 with 2 titles under his belt already.
Djokovic on the other hand, only made it to the quarter-final stages of the Australian Open where he lost to the eventual winner, Stanislas Wawrinka, somewhat vindicating his loss. He also failed in his attempt to win the lowly Dubai title, losing to Roger Federer in the semi-finals. Bouncing back in fine form however, Djokovic won both Indian Wells and Miami with stunning confidence and flawless play. The question on everyone’s mind though, is where does this leave us for the rest of the year?
Granted, it is still early days, with many tournaments left to play in the remaining eight months of this year. The momentum though is certainly with the number 2, Novak Djokovic. Although both Djokovic and Nadal both have two titles to their name so far this year, the timing of these is what must be analysed. Novak won the last two tournaments he played in, while Rafa has been unsuccessful in his last two. Does this mean Nadal should be worried? The next tournament to be played by the pair is the Masters in Monte Carlo. It marks a new season within the tennis world; clay season.
Nadal has always been the King of Clay, and must be dying to run on to the red dust of Monte Carlo to switch the momentum back to his corner. Rafa holds an open era record in this tournament, with a staggering 8 successive titles between 2005 and 2012, with an equally impressive 48-2 event record. It has always been a tournament Nadal has loved, and he will most certainly be a contender to regain the trophy he hasn’t lifted since 2012. No prizes for guessing who stole the title from him last year though. It was of course, Novak Djokovic.
This tournament will be a huge one with regards to the effect it will have on the race for the number 1 spot. If Nadal does regain this title after missing out on it in 2013, he will surely receive a much needed confidence boost. On the other hand, if Djokovic lifts the title then it will mark a third successive title and a wealth of ranking points.
With regards to predictions, I think all the signals point at Djokovic regaining the Monte Carlo title, but I would not be so sure about the Madrid Open and the subsequent French Open Grand Slam. These two titles should go to Nadal, in particular the Madrid Open which will be played in front of a home crowd. Either way, everyone’s favourite tournament, Wimbledon, will be the most important of the year. It will be the highlight of the grass court season, and will mark the half-way point in the tennis calendar.
While it is too far away to definitively predict who will be number 1 heading in to 2015, there is one thing we can all be sure of, the battle for top spot will be between these two classic rivals. They are a class above the rest in the ATP tour, and although they have suffered some shock defeats to lower competitors, they remain the two strongest forces in modern tennis. It will be a big year for both, and an exciting one for any of us watching.
Eoin Lyons, Pundit Arena.