Novak Djokovic has continued his remarkable rise back up the rankings but Rafael Nadal stands between the resurgent star and a drought-breaking stint at the top.
The 14-time grand slam champion won the Shanghai Masters on Sunday to take Roger Federer’s world No.2 ranking and edge closer to the summit.
“I could not ask for a better scenario,” Djokovic said.
“I am very close now to Nadal in the rankings and put myself in a good position for the last period of the year.”
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The door was opened for Djokovic to return to No.1 for the first time since October 2016 when Nadal revealed he would skip the Asian swing with a knee injury.
The Spaniard is slated to make his return at the Paris Masters beginning in two weeks’ time, but he could be helpless in his bid to remain world No.1.
After winning the Shanghai title, Djokovic flagged the sneaky possibility of playing in Vienna or Basel next week.
He would have to reach the final – playing five matches – at either tournament to overhaul his 215-point deficit to Nadal.
“I do not feel pressured to play before Paris-Bercy but I still think there is an option to play. I’m going to decide with my team in a few days,” Djokovic said.
The chase for the No.1 spot would heat up if he decides to rest and wait for Paris, with Nadal requiring a quarter-final appearance there to avoid taking an immediate hit in the rankings.
However, he’ll first have to shake off any rust from his injury-enforced break.
Combine that with Djokovic’s supreme form since Wimbledon, and Nadal holding on to his No.1 spot appears the least likely result.
Djokovic needs to go just one round further to take the ranking.
Nadal will remain on top if the two players fall in the same round or if he goes deeper than the Serbian.
If the two players meet in the final, the equation is simple: the winner takes it all.
For Djokovic it is all a far cry from just five months ago, when he fell to No.22 as he struggled following elbow surgery in February.
He missed the second half of 2017 with elbow and off-court issues but said he had adapted his game since the operation.
He has been particularly dominant on his serve and did not drop a single service game in Shanghai.
“I think you’re seeing the new Novak,” he said.
“I don’t need to describe him, that’s all I can say. I had to reinvent myself and find, you know, (a) proper formula for success.
“I found it and I’m just trying to hold on to it as long as I can.”