Monday, 10 March 2008

Rafa is breathing down Roger's neck

For some time I’ve been toying with the idea of producing a graph to chart the movement in the rankings gap between Federer and Nadal, the rise of Djokovic and the next generation, as well as the decline of former No 1’s Hewitt and Safin. But let’s face it, life’s too short for number crunching and getting stressed about spreadsheets.

But you don’t need a graph to see that with the publication of the new rankings today Federer is under pressure. After his poor start to 2008 the gap between the World No 1 and Nadal is 350 ranking points, the closest its ever been. In fact it’s the smallest margin Federer has held over the No 2 spot since May 10, 2004 when he led Roddick by the same figure.

And so even though he's had a slow start to the year himself, Nadal finds himself in touching distance of the top spot. As the ATP's Greg Sharko explains the No. 1 ranking can't change hands in Indian Wells, since Nadal is defending title points (500) while Federer lost in the opening round (5). But depending on the results of both players in Indian Wells, then the No. 1 position could be up for grabs going into Miami. Nadal has quarterfinal points to defend (125) while Federer has fourth round points coming off (75).

But it's not that straighforward. What a graph would brilliantly illustrate if only i could find the time (or energy) is that Djokovic is closing fast on Nadal. So Rafa needs to win in Indian Wells and then repeat his previous dominance in the clay season if he is to close the gap on Federer and fend off Djokovic.

So my take on this is the numbers don't lie. Federer is still No 1 (and will be for some time) but the gap IS closer than ever as the chasing pack start to catch up, and 2008 will be Federer's toughest year to date.

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