Shanghai: With Rafael Nadal out of action for the next few weeks with a partially torn patella tendon in his left knee, it is the Roger Federer-Novak Djokovic rivalry that will light up the end of the tennis season.
And what brings more excitement to this tussle is the focus being shown by both players in nailing down the World No. 1 position as a just reward for a year of hard work on the ATP Tour.
Neither man has kept his year-end ambitions a secret, with Federer the first to voice his intentions at the pre-Shanghai Masters official press conference here after returning to competition for the first time since leading Switzerland in Davis Cup action last month.
“I hope I will finish World No.1 at the end of the year,” said the 31-year-old. “For me it’s about trying to play well here in Shanghai and going from there.”
Federer reached the final on his last visit here two years ago, when he lost to Andy Murray, while Djokovic, who won last week’s China Open in Beijing, has made it to the semi-finals here twice in the past.
So Djokovic is seen as the one character in the plot who is capable of breaking Federer’s streak at the top of men’s tennis. “Number one in the world is a goal for me till the end of the year and it is definitely an objective and something I try to achieve. But it’s not daily on my mind,” Djokovic told media here.
“I obviously try to focus on my day-to-day commitments that I have on the tournaments and every match that I play. This was always my mind set and it has been working well for me so far. The win in Beijing [China Open] will obviously give me confidence that I can use this week.”
Federer’s South African Airways ATP Rankings No.1 spot is under threat this week. Should he fail to reach the quarter-finals and Djokovic wins the title on Sunday, the Serb will reclaim the No.1 ranking that he surrendered to Federer following his record 17th Grand Slam at Wimbledon in July.
With only six tournaments remaining before the season-ending Barclays ATP World Tour Final in London, the battle lines are drawn. The excitement can never get closer than this.