ATP Ascension: World’s Top Spot Up For Grabs at Wimbledon

The men’s side of tennis’ biggest tournament is filled with loads of intrigue this year with captivating storylines and a world No. 1 ranking on the line.

Updated: June 23, 2017 • 10:34 AM ET

Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer have turned back the clock this year.

Whether one of the so-called Big Four of men’s tennis wins Wimbledon isn’t so much in question as which one will rise to No. 1 when the gates of the All England Lawn Tennis Club clatter to a close July 16.


With their current ranking points, Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka have a shot at the top spot if they win Wimbledon. And even though the odd-man-out, Roger Federer, has won three titles this year, one being the Australian Open, he could only reach No. 3 in the world if he won Wimbledon. 


This wasn’t the scene a year ago when Djokovic had a stranglehold on No. 1. He led the pack with 16,950 points, which was twice what Murray had accumulated and the highest number in ATP Ranking history. Whether the Serbian won the whole ball of wax or dumped out in Round 1 at Wimbledon last year, he was going to carry the mantle through the year.


But, we all know now that Djokovic sputtered to an early exit in Round 3 after a two-day affair with American Sam Querrey. The match was a telltale sign of a slipping career. 


Those 16,950 points have been shaved to 5,805 and a No. 4 world ranking. When Djokovic left Paris after Roland Garros, he was despondent. He even considered a long break from the sport he’d dominated for three years. He certainly gave no assurance that he’d show his face at any grass-court warmup tournament.


However, doom and gloom have given way to the fighter’s instincts. He accepted a wildcard entry to next week’s Aegon International in Eastbourne, Great Britain. It will be his first appearance at this event. But even with this effort, his toughest competitors would have to fail early at Wimbledon for him to win it. 


Andy Murray, the defending Wimbledon Champion and hope of Great Britain, has a monumental task staring him in the face. His loss in the opening round of Queen’s Club to ‘Lucky Loser’ Jordan Thompson of Australia earlier this week threw a bucket of cold water on his preparation for the biggest event of his year. 


“This tournament has given me great preparation in the past,” Murray said via The Guardian. “When I have done well here, Wimbledon has tended to go pretty well, too. But, if I play like that, I certainly won’t win Wimbledon. I can play better than that.”


Murray has won at Queen’s Club five times, including last year. But the loss to Thompson, who is ranked No. 60 in the world, pulled even with the Scot’s loss to now-retired American Mardy Fish in 2010. It put extra pressure on Murray to pull together a grass-court game that has awarded him two prestigious Wimbledon crowns. As a result, Murray is considering an exhibition match, either at Boodles or Hurlingham. Match practice is match practice, so he must think. 


Wawrinka is the most fascinating prospect for the No. 1 spot. Slow to progress in his career, he was continually labeled the second-best Swiss player in the game. Of course, the No. 1 Swiss player in the game is still Federer, adding an extra slight to a man now seen as a genuine contender to win many major titles, of which he has three. Wawrinka’s run to the final in Paris, and his desire to capture the one Grand Slam not already in his portfolio, makes him a sharper threat come a week when competition begins. 


Alas, Wawrinka crashed out of Queen’s Club in his opening round match, just like Murray. Without the potential 500 points awarded to the winner of the tournament, the likelihood of Wawrinka reaching No. 1 for the first time in his career is slim. 


Since Federer has no chance of adding to his 302 total weeks at No. 1, that leaves Nadal as the next likely suspect. If we just consider momentum, the Spaniard would surely be the best bet to win Wimbledon. He won Wimbledon in 2008 and 2010, both coming on the heels of French Open titles the same years. Now, with his 10th French Open title in his pocket, the surface of Wimbledon playing slower and the style of baseline bashing having replaced the serve-and-volley of yesteryear Wimbledon, Nadal could pull off the double, given a good draw. And, one little known fact: Nadal stands alone, having won titles on three different surfaces in a calendar year. 


Nadal, unlike his brethren Federer, has only been ranked No. 1 in the world for a total of 141 weeks. With his 15 Grand Slams to Federer’s 18, though, the disparity in consistency at the tippy top can be explained by Nadal’s injuries, which have been more prevalent over time than Federer’s. 


With all five players within 2,000 points of each other, the outcome of Wimbledon will give us a preview of the rankings for the remainder of the season. And even though Federer won’t be ranked No. 1 when the tournament ends, he’ll be in great shape to reach the top spot because he has no points to defend through the end of the year. 


The race for No. 1 in any sport opens the door to bragging rights, but it also indicates who will make the playoffs and who will earn the richest sponsorship deals. In tennis, it’s a personal reward in and of itself, as well. Different players value the top ranking differently. But there’s no denying that being in the top eight for the year makes the only difference in who receives an invitation to the prestigious ATP World Tour Finals held at the O2 Arena in London come November. 


The week-long event, which begins with round-robin competition, promises a purse of $7.5 million. An undefeated champion could earn 1,500 points (2,000 points are awarded to a Grand Slam champion) and $2,391,000 in prize money over the six days of competition. Although the ATP Finals is considered a step below a Grand Slam and doesn’t garner the attention given to majors, the event is coveted by the players who arrive there after a year of tough tournaments. 


Federer has appeared there 14 times, holding the record. Last year was the first time he missed the event since 2002. He also holds the most titles at the event with six and has been the runner-up four times (2005, 2012, 2014, 2015). 


Federer’s dominance at No. 1, Nadal’s push to catch up to Federer, Murray’s back-of-the-mind need to become a legitimate No. 1, Djokovic’s desire to rectify his career and Wawrinka’s singular pursuit of the coveted ranking foreshadow the fortnight of Wimbledon. Yet, Federer and Nadal remain the two players who will attract the biggest swath of fans — ranking or no ranking. And since they each have won one of the first two majors this year, their performances at Wimbledon will be closely watched — for the sake of history and for the sake of the ATP rankings. 


The Championships Qualifying Competition, as Wimbledon’s website reads, begins Monday, June 26 for the men and June 27 for the women. For the first time in its history, qualification will be a ticketed event. Even children as young a five will have to show a ticket to enter the grounds of the Bank of England Sports Centre in Roehampton, London. And for the first time, fans can watch qualification on, Eurosport in the UK and ESPN in the United States.

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