After denying Novak Djokovic the historic Calendar Slam, could Daniil Medvedev also deny him a record-breaking seventh year-end No 1 ranking?
Djokovic finished 2020 as No 1 to equal Pete Sampras’ all-time record, but Medvedev has a chance to claim the spot for himself this year.
The Russian won his first Grand Slam title at the US Open after beating Djokovic in straight sets in the final. The result moved him up to second in the Race to Turin rankings, which this season will be used to determine the year-end No 1 due to the changes in overall rankings caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
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The Race to Turin rankings only include tournament results in 2021 while the overall rankings still count some results from 2020 and 2019. In the overall rankings, Djokovic is top on 12,133 points, with Medvedev second on 10,780 points.
Medvedev said after winning the US Open that it is “almost impossible” to catch Djokovic this year because of the contrasting amount of points they have to defend for the remainder of the season. Medvedev has 2,000 points combined from winning the Paris Masters in 2020 and Shanghai Masters in 2019 set to drop off his ranking total, and 1,500 points from winning the ATP Finals last year. So to keep those points he would need to match the results at those three tournaments.
Djokovic’s only significant losses will be 1,000 points from winning Paris in 2019, 500 points from winning Tokyo in 2019, and 400 points from making the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in 2020.
But in the Race to Turin rankings, things are much closer.
Djokovic currently leads the way on 8,370 points, ahead of Medvedev on 6,380. With 1,000 points up for grabs for winning a Masters event, Medvedev could move 10 points ahead of Djokovic heading into the season-ending ATP Finals, if he wins both Indian Wells and the Paris Masters.
That is, if Djokovic doesn’t compete at either event, which is not an impossibility.
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Speaking after losing the US Open final, Djokovic said: “To be honest, I don’t have any plan. Absolutely nothing. I don’t know if I’ll play anything, anywhere. Currently, I’m here in New York with my thoughts. Of course, my life is now completely different…I would like to spend more time with my children.”
Medvedev is next set to play for Team Europe in the Laver Cup – which does not hold any ranking points – before heading to the rescheduled Masters in Indian Wells. He will then travel to Europe to play Paris and the ATP Finals.
“If we talk about schedule, what can I change?” he said after the US Open. “There is Indian Wells, there is Paris Bercy, Turin, and Vienna. Vienna is in the week of St Petersburg. I'm definitely not going to play it, because I probably won't play St Pete also. But again, in the week of St Pete, which is a Russian tournament, I'm not going to play anything else.
“Let's hope I win Indian Wells, Bercy and Turin. It's a tough challenge. I'm just happy to win a major. I'm going to do my best in every tournament I'm playing. I'm going to see what I'm going to do with the schedule. That's not my first goal in my mind to try to achieve it this year. If I manage to do it one day, it's great.”
Medvedev has won 148 matches on hard courts since 2018, making him the most successful player on that surface in that period. With Djokovic potentially not playing for the rest of the year and uncertainty over what other players will do, Medvedev would likely be the favourite for the last three big events of 2021. If he did win the Masters tournaments in Indian Wells and Paris, and Djokovic didn’t play either, then Medvedev would need to match Djokovic's result at the ATP Finals to secure the year-end No 1 ranking.
Andy Murray did something similar in 2016 when he finished ahead of Djokovic at the top of the rankings after an impressive late finish to the season. Murray won 24 matches in a row and sealed the year-end No 1 spot by beating Djokovic in straight sets in the final of the ATP Finals in London.
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While Medvedev might spend the rest of September basking in his US Open success and having some fun at the Laver Cup, he will then need to firmly switch his focus back to tennis if he wants to finish as year-end No 1. Indian Wells will be the first big test; it’s a tournament where he hasn’t made it past the third round on his previous three visits, and there will be more expectation on his shoulders this year. Dominic Thiem showed recently that building on a major breakthrough is not always easy, he lost in the quarter-finals in his next two events after winning the 2020 US Open and has fallen away this year.
It will be intriguing to see how much more Djokovic plays this season and how much he wants to secure the year-end No 1 spot. This could be his final chance to break Sampras' record, and a good result at either Indian Wells or Paris may be enough to seal the deal. Or will he get some rest and then return with the hope that he can topple Medvedev at the ATP Finals?
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