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Countdown To 2012 - Roger Reaches For No. 1

Roger Federer

Federer © Getty ImagesRoger Federer will look to become the fifth player aged 30 and over to hold the No. 1 ranking.

As part of our 'Countdown to 2012' series, looks at Roger Federer's mission to regain the World No. 1 ranking.

Roger Federer came oh-so-close to matching Pete Sampras’ record of 286 weeks at No. 1, ultimately coming up one win and one week short with his loss to Robin Soderling in the 2010 Roland Garros quarter-finals. Rafael Nadal went on to strip the Swiss of the top spot, and Novak Djokovic prevented Federer’s return to No. 1 in 2011.

Will 2012 be Federer’s year to return to No. 1 in the South African Airways ATP Rankings and finally overtake Sampras?

Though he starts an ATP World Tour season outside the Top 2 for the first time since 2003, Federer finished 2011 as the in-form player.  Following the US Open, he won 17 straight matches with titles at Basel, Paris and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals to collect 3,000 rankings points and move ahead of Andy Murray to No. 3 in the year-end rankings.

Entering 2012, he trails No. 1 Djokovic by 5,460 rankings points, No. 2 Nadal by 1,425 and holds a slim 780-point lead over No. 4 Murray. But of the players in the Top 4, Federer stands to gain the most ground through the conclusion of the US Open. Djokovic has 13,070 rankings points to defend, including three Grand Slam titles and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, while Nadal has 8,985 and Murray 5,450. Federer, who managed to win just one title in Doha until the final month of the season, has 5,170 points to defend.

“Well, that’s a long way to go, but who knows? One day maybe I’ll get there,” Federer told The New York Times earlier this month. “I had to just kind of ignore it at the moment because I know that Novak with his unbelievable year has kind of put that very far from me, but then again, all of a sudden you play well and you win 17 matches in a row and you’re back where you at least feel if you win a Slam or something, you’re right in the conversation again, so that’s interesting and that excites me.”

Federer will be attempting to become just the fifth player aged 30 and over to hold down the ATP’s top ranking. John Newcombe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl were 30 during their last reign at No. 1, while Andre Agassi was 33 during his final stint for 14 weeks in 2003.

Agassi had endured a 137-week wait to get back to No. 1, after being overtaken by Sampras following the 2000 US Open. That occasion also marked the last time that Sampras, 29 at the time, would regain the No. 1 spot.

By the time the 2012 season starts, it will have been 83 weeks since Federer last held top dog status on the ATP World Tour. He enjoyed a 48-week run at World No. 1 the last time, taking the top ranking back from Nadal following his 2009 Wimbledon triumph. He first ascended to No. 1 on February 2004 and held the position for a record 237 consecutive weeks.

Federer already has a vote of confidence from Tim Henman, who believes the Swiss still has the drive and skill to return to the top. “He is just short of Sampras' record for most weeks at World No. 1;  I know Roger will really want to break that record, so I think it’s possible,” said the former British No. 1. “I think he will win more Slams, I really do. If the conditions favour him then Roger at his best is still better than anyone else.”

Federer’s first test of the 2012 season will come as the defending champion at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open, with competitors at the season opener including Nadal and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He will then aim to win his first Grand Slam title in two years at the Australian Open.

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