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The Battle to be World Number 2

Photo via Forty Deuce

Photo via Forty Deuce

It is a measure of Rafael Nadal’s dominance that the major ranking battle is now for number two in the world. The struggle for top ranking is over for the foreseeable future – Roger Federer, world number one for four and a half years, is now in a three-man battle for second place with Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic.

The momentum in this race to become Nadal’s nearest challenger seemed to have swung towards Murray. The Brit’s impressive showings in the closing stages of the US hard court part of the season, that included a final appearance at Indian Wells and victory at Miami, suggested he was in the best form of the trio.

He eased past Djokovic in that Miami final, another head-to-head win over a rival to go alongside his increasingly impressive record against Federer. He has made beating the Swiss legend something of a habit, although he would have swapped all of those victories for glory in their US Open final showdown last year.

Such meetings between these three in Grand Slams are important not just due to their greater ranking point rewards, but because they also enable a direct comparison between the contenders. We can see who performs best when the pressure is really on. In winning their epic 2008 Wimbledon final, Nadal took Federer’s top-dog status. The rankings did not need to be consulted.

However, despite Murray’s rapid development and solid start to the clay season – he reached the semi finals at Monte Carlo – Djokovic has been quick to lay his own claims to the number two ranking.

The Serb was runner-up to Nadal at both Monte Carlo and Rome (it need not be said that Nadal is proving unbeatable on clay) and he could be the champion’s biggest challenger at the French Open. He has come closer to unsettling Nadal at Roland Garros than Federer has, whilst Murray will look upon a semi-final appearance as a success.

All this suggests Federer, the current number two, is a forgotten man. This is a dangerous thing to do, not least because Wimbledon is around the corner. Nadal knows he must reproduce his stunning form from last year to retain the title and it would be a major surprise if Murray or Djokovic take the number two ranking after that tournament. It might come their way soon, but Federer is not ready to give up another mantle just yet. Tennis betting on Federer is likely to be interesting!

-By Philip Oliver

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