April 5, 2009

The Battle For #3

It may not seem like the most coveted prize, but in the realm of men's tennis the #3 world ranking is probably the best that anyone can hope for.

Rafael Nadal is so far ahead of the pack, and Roger Federer had amassed so many points over his career, that there only seems to be any wiggle room in the rest of the rankings.

And that was certainly on the minds of both Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray as they took the courts in Miami today. Murray, technically #4, has been arguably one of the best players so far this year, winning titles in both Doha and Rotterdam already, while a struggling Djokovic holds tenuously onto his #3 ranking with a championship in Dubai and an admittedly impressive semifinal win over Federer on Friday.

The winner of the Sony Ericsson Open would surely make his case for a big move in the standings ahead of the ever-imminent French Open.

As the match started it seemed the momentum that has been with Murray since January would continue. He broke Novak twice in a row and ran off to a 4-0 lead before taking the set in a half hour. He even started the second set by breaking Nole again, making an easy victory seem inevitable. But somehow Djokovic was able to turn things around. He evened up the set and even went ahead 4-1 before he earned his first set point at 5-3. What could have been a runaway suddenly turned into a real match, with both players looking hungry for the title.

Ultimately Murray was able to regroup and broke Novak two more times. It was the outcome you'd expect, given each man's performance so far in 2009. The 1000 points he earns from the second top-tier tournament of the year brings Murray within one more championship of the #3 ranking, and must make Djokovic a little nervous.

In fact, I think a couple of people should be nervous -- Federer has certainly proven his fallibility at the hands of other top players, and Nikolay Davydenko could see his position plummet as he sits on the sidelines with a heel injury. Now I'm going to make a pretty bold prediction, but given the way the men have played over the last few weeks, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a shake-up in the broader standings.

By year-end, I forecast a new top five.

  1. Rafael Nadal
  2. Andy Murray
  3. Roger Federer
  4. Andy Roddick
  5. Novak Djokovic

Make sure to check back in December to see if I'm right!

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