Latest twist in Federer and Nadal's game of No.1 chicken

Roger Federer’s fifth reign as the world’s No.1 player has ended after just one short week following Rafael Nadal’s Italian Open triumph overnight.

But it’s unlikely to be the end of their game of chicken at the top.

Nadal defeated Alexander Zverev in a topsy-turvy three-set thriller in Rome that included both players winning a set 6-1 and two rain stoppages.

And the Spaniard’s eighth Italian Open title lifted him up in the rankings above his great rival Federer, who is sitting out the clay-court season for a second consecutive year.

But even with the Swiss master’s absence, the pressure will be on for Nadal as he chases an 11th French Open championship when the tournament begins on Sunday.

The 31-year-old must win the title to stay ahead of Federer to begin the grass-court season, which would stretch his sixth and current stint as No.1 to four weeks.

Yet it might end there.

Who will blink next? Pic: Getty

Nadal’s first appearance after Roland Garros is set to be at Queen’s on June 18.

Federer, meanwhile, will return to the tour the week prior – June 11 – with his third visit to Stuttgart.

And the 36-year-old needs only to win three matches to pick up the 150 points required for him to overhaul Nadal at the top.

Don’t think that’s the end of it, however.

Federer and Nadal are well on their way to replicating the Jimmy Connors-John McEnroe or Ivan Lendl-McEnroe swaps of the 1980s.

Last year Federer went on to win the Halle title and then take out Wimbledon, while Nadal didn’t play any grass tournaments before losing in the fourth round at the All England Club.

All up, Federer has 2500 points to defend over the next eights weeks compared to Nadal’s meagre 180.

Any slip-up from either player threatens to create separation between the two.

The only saving grace is their two-man game is just a bit of fun amid deep runs and more trophies.

Zverev has entrenched himself as world No.3 but he is a whopping 1935 points behind Nadal, so tennis fans can be assured of one thing.

We might not know the order, but Federer and Nadal will fill the top two spots when the US Open comes around in August.

– 10 times in 1983 (Connors, McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Connors, McEnroe, Connors, McEnroe, Lendl, McEnroe)
– Eight times in 1999 (Moya, Sampras, Kafelnikov, Sampras, Agassi, Rafter, Sampras, Agassi)
– Six times in 1984 (Lendl, McEnroe, Lendl, McEnroe, Lendl, McEnroe)
– Five times in 1992 (Courier, Edberg, Courier, Edberg, Courier)
– Five times in 1996 (Agassi, Muster, Sampras, Muster, Sampras)
– Five times in 2001 (Safin, Kuerten, Safin, Kuerten, Hewitt)
– Five times in 2003 (Agassi, Hewitt, Agassi, Ferrero, Roddick)

– One week, Federer (May 2018)
– One week and counting, Nadal (May 2018 – present)
– Six weeks, Federer (Feb-Apr 2018)
– Six weeks, Nadal (Apr-May 2018)
– 17 weeks, Federer (Jul-Nov 2012)
– 26 weeks, Nadal (Aug 2017 – Feb 2018)