Rafael Nadal races to World Tour Finals: is No1 ranking far behind?
Rafael Nadal has already secured his qualification for the season-ending ATP World Tour finals in London
The ATP World Tour Finals is the one big tournament that Rafael Nadal has yet to win, but following his record eighth French Open title this weekend, the Spaniard is already in the best of all positions to put that right in 2013.
Nadal has become the first singles player this season to seal his place at the prestigious end-of-year finale, where the top eight men in the world pit themselves against each other in a demanding round-robin format.
Although this will be the ninth consecutive year that Nadal has qualified for the World Tour Finals (WTF), he has been fit to play only five times, twice reaching the semi-finals and losing in the final to Roger Federer in 2010.
His achievement this year, and the speed with which he has qualified, is all the more remarkable because of his absence for the first month of the season, missing the entire Australian Open swing.
He returned to the Golden Swing on the clay of South America after a seventh-month absence to heal a knee injury and promptly reached the final in all nine of his tournaments, winning seven titles. As well as winning his 12th Grand Slam title at Roland Garros, he extended his Masters titles record to 24 with wins in Indian Wells, Madrid and Rome. He also won titles in Sao Paulo, Acapulco and Barcelona, taking his career total on clay to 42.
This run has seen Nadal stretch his lead in the race to London to almost 2,000 points, despite slipping back to No5 behind David Ferrer in the 12-month rankings.
However, with only 45 points to defend at Wimbledon for the rest of the year, he can only build on his totals at every event he plays, while those currently above him—Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and Ferrer, have big points to defend. And that puts Nadal in pole position to reclaim the No1 ranking as the two ranking tables converge on the O2 in London.
Also currently in the frame for London, at this half-way stage in the race, is a potential debutant at the WTFs, Stan Wawrinka, only one place behind his compatriot Federer, who has yet to win a title this year.
Federer has played only nine tournaments to Wawrinka’s 13 but has rarely languished at No7 at this stage of the year. He has qualified for the last 11 years in a row, winning six times and failing to reach the semis only once when carrying a back injury.
Another man on the rise is Richard Gasquet, a qualifier just once in 2007, when he went out at the round robin stage.
The most impressive run, however, might be that of Tommy Haas, the 35-year-old former world No2 who has risen three places to No11 this week. Hit by injury and accident throughout almost his entire career, he has never reached the year-end play-offs.
In doubles, Bob and Mike Bryan continue to dominate the scene, already claiming their place in London for the 12th consecutive year. The 35-year-old Americans are three-time WTF champions, winning in 2003, 2004 and 2009.
The Bryans are aiming to end the year as the top-ranked doubles team for a ninth time and a fifth consecutive season. They have won seven titles in 2013, including the Australian and French Opens.
But all eyes as the tour heads towards Wimbledon and beyond will be on Nadal, who first became world No1 in 2008, reclaimed it for a year in 2010, and could be heading to the very top once again.