Rafael Nadal has held the No.1 ATP World Tour ranking for a career-high 129 straight weeks, but that reign could come to an end as the tour enters the heart of the clay-court season culminating in the French Open at Roland Garros in May.
The player Nadal has battled for the better part of a decade to take back the No. 1 ranking is previous title holder and No. 2 Novak Djokovic.
The Serbian star stands to surpass Nadal should he perform well in key tournaments like the Mutua Madrid Open and next week’s Monte Carlo Rolex Masters. Boasting a 16-2 overall record this season, Djokovic took down Nadal last year for his first title in Monte Carlo.
The Spaniard re-claimed the No. 1 ranking for the first time in two years after an incredible 2013 highlighted by his eighth and record-setting victory in the French, nine other singles titles, and a 75-7 overall record. No player in the Open Era has dominated the French Open like Nadal. Bjorn Borg won the tournament six times before his abrupt retirement in 1983.
Last year and in many others, Nadal had used the months of April and May to build up his confidence and game heading into Roland Garros. In 2013, he fell to Djokovic in the Monte Carlo final, but then swept through Barcelona, Madrid and Rome en route to Paris.
Capturing the French eight of the last nine years, the clay master Nadal has actually won at least two of the dirt’s four major tournaments leading up to the French. Six times he won three of them.
Nadal owns the all-time mark of 22-18 over his nemesis Djokovic, but the Serb was the only player to beat Nadal on more than one occasion last year as they spilt their six matches 3-3.
The 26-year-old Djokovic bounced back from early exits in the semifinals in Dubai and the quarters in Melbourne to claim the Indian Wells and Miami titles, all while besting Nadal and Roger Federer in the finals.
Djokovic has now beaten Nadal on three consecutive occasions, the first time that’s happened since he ripped off seven straight wins over his rival between the 2011 and 2012 seasons. The latest win was in straight sets 6-3 6-3 in the Miami final, but all of Djokovic’s recent successes have come on the hard court.
Nadal (13,730 points) currently leads Djokovic (11,810 points) by 1,920 points and defending even two of his titles in Barcelona, Madrid, and Rome, as well as Paris, should be more than enough to keep his ranking.
Stanislas Wawrinka of Switzerland is a distant third with 5,740 points.