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Djokovic Holds World No. 1 Opportunity In Rome

Madrid, Spain

Djokovic, Nadal© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic trails Rafael Nadal by 1805 South African Airways ATP Rankings points going into Rome.

After winning all six tournaments he has played in 2011, Novak Djokovic now has the opportunity, for the first time, to claim the No. 1 South African Airways ATP Ranking this week at the Internazionali BNL d’ Italia in Rome. If Djokovic wins his seventh consecutive title, the Serb would dethrone World No. 1 Rafael Nadal if the Spaniard and defending Rome champion falls before the semi-finals. Should Nadal hold on this week, Djokovic will still have a very strong chance of claiming No. 1 at Roland Garros.

Djokovic’s 7-5, 6-4 victory against Rafael Nadal in the Mutua Madrid Open final Sunday puts the Serbian in position to officially christen himself as the preeminent player in the world at the Rome tournament. “If I keep winning I’ll get closer but I’m trying not to think about that,” Djokovic said Sunday. 

“I just started the clay-court season. It was a perfect start with the two tournaments that I won and I need to stay dedicated and focused on the upcoming events.”

By clinching his first win over the Spaniard in 10 meetings on clay, which increased his undefeated supremacy this season to 32-0, Djokovic has intensified the battle for World No. 1. “If I want to reach No. 1, I have to play consistent because that’s what Rafa will do and the rest of the players,” said Djokovic. “It has changed, I have a different mindset right now, I’m more stable and I know how to think right.”

Should the two-time Australian Open winner lift the trophy at the Internazionali BNL d’ Italia and Nadal loses before the semi-finals, the Serbian would become the first player other than Nadal and Roger Federer to hold the No.1 ranking since Andy Roddick occupied the spot for 13 weeks before the Swiss surpassed him on 2 February, 2004. It would snap a streak of 380 weeks where Nadal or Federer possessed the coveted position. “If I lose No. 1 it’s not the end of the world. If I lose it I will be No. 2 and I’ll be very happy,” said Nadal.

“I’m just happy to go out on court and have the feeling that I’m competitive and I still have this feeling, but at the moment I haven’t been able to beat him but I’ll try to work and beat him [next time]. The good things will come and you’ve got to be patient.”

Nadal will control his own destiny in Rome, so the Serbian needs someone in the Spaniard’s quarter of the draw to topple the two-time defending champion, a tall order, as Djokovic was the first player in 38 matches to defeat the Mallorcan on clay. But Nadal has lost at the event early before, falling to compatriot Juan Carlos Ferrero in the second round three years ago. He could face a tricky second round opponent in Thomaz Bellucci. The Brazilian reached his first Masters 1000 semi-final in Madrid, and forced Djokovic to rally from a set down in their final four encounter. David Ferrer is the highest seeded player in Nadal’s section, but the World No. 1 has defeated Ferrer twice on clay this season.

If Nadal reaches the semi-final stage or better, it’s still plausible that the Serbian will surpass the Spaniard when the clay-court season finishes, as Nadal is defending a French Open title, while Djokovic has to back up a quarter-final result at Roland Garros. Either way, Djokovic has provided tennis fans an opportunity to witness tennis history, and has asserted himself as an early front-runner for the year-end No. 1.

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