1. Rafael Nadal: The Spaniard is way, way ahead in the point’s race, nearly 3000 points in front so unless disaster strikes the number one ranking is his for the taking. Nadal did not play at all last fall and current No. 1 ranked Novak Djokovic is defending 2,610 points with 2012 titles in Shanghai and the Barclay’s ATP World Finals.
Essentially, Nadal’s goals during this stretch where he will play Beijing, Shanghai, Paris/Bercy and London would be not to beat up his knees and make sure that he comes into World Tour finals well rested because his failure to win it is perhaps the only black mark on his rapidly expanding resume.
2. Novak Djokovic: By his 2011 standards, this has not been a great season for Djokovic. He has been very good for the most part, but outside of his Aussie Open title run, he has rarely been great. There is no question that he is lacking confidence against the other super elite players in big matches, as his play in the Wimbledon and US Open finals – especially in the fourth set in New York– attest to.
The Serbian is constantly trying to improve and he is venturing to net more, so since his No. 1 ranking will almost surely go to Nadal, his intention should be to try and smooth out the rough edges of his game and rediscover his self belief against the big boys, so when he gets to London, he can put up a ferocious title defense and go into 2014 feeling much better about his prospects.
3. Andy Murray: Most on the British press who follow Murray closely don’t believe he will be able to play the ATP World Finals due to his back surgery, so after his post Wimbledon swoon (which may have been partly due to his back pain) he needs to rest up, rehab and get ready for an assault on the No. 1 ranking in 2014
4. David Ferrer: The Spaniard did such a fine job in reaching his first Roland Garros final, but after Nadal terrorized him his level dropped: he took a straight set loss to Del Potro at Wimbledon, two shocking losses to Alex Bolgomolov and Dmitry Tursunov in Canada and Cincy, and then let go of a two sets to love lead against Richard Gasquet at the US Open. He’s 31 now and has played a relentless schedule since he turned pro in 2000. His days of consistently going deep at big tournament may be behind him. However, he’s pretty much locked up place in London as assuming Murray pulls out, he’s more than 2100 points over the Gasquet, who is in ninth place.
5. Thomas Berdych: It’s been a respectable but not standout year for the Czech, who hasn’t reached a final since February. Stan Wawrinka spanked him at the US Open and while Berdych’s game will always feature substantial doses of power, he isn’t as clear headed and motivated as he was during the last couple of years. A big fall push would sure help to get him back on track. He’s only 865 points ahead of Jo Tsonga, who is one out of London right now. The only way he can pick up substantial points this week at the ATP 250 in Bangkok is to actually win the title.
6. Juan Martin Del Potro: The towering Argentine’s left wrist is feeling better and he has taken a wild card into Tokyo. He’s an excellent player, but he’s been struggling with wrist injuries in both arms since late 2009 and it’s conceivable that he will never be all the way back, or be able to progress much due to his ailments. Frankly, he cannot win a major is all he can do is slice one handed backhands. He’s in decent shape in the point’s race as long as he doesn’t implode. A couple quarters and semifinals should get him back to London.
7. Roger Federer: Despite having his worst season since 2002 – which was just before he came into his own as a great player – Federer still stands at seventh in the points race and although he is in a slump, he’s an excellent indoor player and it would be stunning if he didn’t reach London. Sure, his confidence is down and he’s likely fiddling with a new racquet again, but at the very least knowing that he have a chance to ply his trade again in still air again should give him reason to hope. In fact, since 2001 there has only been one year, 2009, when he hasn’t won an indoor title. While he many not grab one this year, it’s hard to see Federer not reaching at least one final.
8. Stan Wawrinka: In many ways this has been the No. 2 Swiss best season and he may soon be the top Swiss if he progresses further in Malaysia and puts up strong results in Beijing and Shanghai. The US Open semifinalist is not only swinging from the hips but playing smarter and more confidently. With his colorful game he would be an excellent addition to the field in London.
9. Richard Gasquet: The Frenchman is having a very consistent year and a very good one as of late with his US Open semifinalist appearance. He has reached the semis of Bangkok this week but only a title would add a decent amount of points to his total. If he keeps his nose to the grindstone, he’s a good bet to reach the ATP Finals.
10. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: The Frenchman had a good comeback week in Metz, reaching the final, but is his knee really healthy enough to withstand the six week grind and make a run at London.? Possible, but doubtful
11. Milos Raonic: We all realize how much upside the Canadian has and it now it looks like his new coach Ivan Ljubicic has found a way to steady him mentally so he can perform better at major events and more consistently. Since August he’s reached the final of Montreal, the fourth round of the US Open and now is in the semis of Bangkok. But as of Friday he was 540 points behind Gasquet, which means that he’ll have to put up strong results in Tokyo and Shanghai and likely Bercy to be able to make a huge push at London.
12. Tommy Haas: It’s been an impressive season for the 35 year old German, but even though he still has elite ability in two out of three set tournaments and can play on any surface, does he really want to put himself through the meat grinder to qualify for the years end championships again? Questionable
13. John Isner: The only American in contention was 710 points behind Gasquet as of Friday, which make it near mandatory for him to do deep in Beijing, Shanghai and Bercy. For whatever reason he has never performed well on tour during the fall, going 2-3 in that part of the season last year. He’s capable of confidently dictating and making a charge, but he’s going to have to want it very badly.