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Can Rafael Nadal prevent Novak Djokovic from breaking Roger Federer's record of most weeks at No. 1? A look at all the scenarios

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal
Rudra Biswas
Modified 22 Dec 2020, 02:02 IST

Rafael Nadal is expected to get his 2021 season rolling at the ATP Cup before he heads for the Australian Open, which is reportedly set to start from 8 February. Novak Djokovic has a similar schedule, but the first two months of 2021 hold extra significance for him given how close he is to achieving one of his biggest career goals.

While Nadal will be keen to do well in Melbourne, bidding to win his first Australian Open since 2009, the Spaniard is still in the shadow of World No. 1 Djokovic as far as the rankings are concerned. On Monday, the Serb officially reached the 300-week mark as the No. 1 ranked player in the world.

Novak Djokovic is now all set to beat Roger Federer's all-time record of 310 weeks at the top. The 33-year-old needs to remain at the No. 1 position only until 8 March 2021 to claim the historic record for himself.

Perhaps Federer would be wishing that his good friend Nadal stops the Serb before he achieves the spectacular feat.

Djokovic and Nadal were last involved in a scuffle for the top spot in 2019, before Nadal ultimately prevailed by 840 points at the ATP Finals. This time too, the Spaniard is the only player in the world who has even a mathematical chance of overtaking Djokovic.

World No. 3 Dominic Thiem is too far behind - with a deficit of nearly 3,000 points - to come anywhere close to the No. 1 ranking before the clay season.

That said, the points gap between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal itself is fairly large at 2,180 points. Nadal has a very tough task on his hands if he intends to dethrone Djokovic before the Serb breaks the all-time record for most weeks at World No. 1 spot.

Rafael Nadal needs to win ATP Cup & Australian Open, plus reach QF of another event, for any shot of overtaking Novak Djokovic in the rankings before 8 March

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic

Both Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been confirmed for two tournaments: the ATP Cup and the Australian Open. While the ATP Cup is scheduled to kick off in the first week of February, the the Melbourne Slam will commence from 8 February.


At the moment Novak Djokovic stands tall with a huge tally of 12,030 points, well ahead of Rafael Nadal who's at 9,850 points.

Last year, Nadal reached the final at the ATP Cup (where he lost in the final to Djokovic himself) and the quarterfinals at the Australian Open, raking in 610 points. The Spaniard can't lose those points no matter how he fares in 2021, given the new COVID-adjusted ranking system adopted by the ATP. But he can potentially add enough points to get close to Djokovic's tally - if he wins both the ATP Cup and the Australian Open.

Rafael Nadal at the 2020 ATP Finals
Rafael Nadal at the 2020 ATP Finals

Winning the ATP Cup would give Rafael Nadal 750 points, while triumphing in Melbourne would earn him 2,000. The total of 610 would then be subtracted from the total of 2,750, giving him a net gain of 2,140 points.


Evidently, that would still not be enough for the Spaniard to leapfrog Novak Djokovic since the difference right now is 2,180 points. To make up the deficit, Rafael Nadal would have to alter his schedule and enter one of the ATP 250 tournaments in January (Delray Beach or Antalya), or one of the as yet undecided tournaments to be held after the Australian Open in February.

If Nadal reaches the quarterfinals or better at one of those events, he would gain 45 more points - and thus theoretically overtake Djokovic before 8 March.

The Serb, of course, won both the ATP Cup and the Australian Open last year so he can't add any points at either event in 2021. He can, however, enter a tournament after the Australian Open in the unlikely event that Nadal sweeps everything in Melbourne and the No. 1 ranking appears to be under threat.

Needless to say, if Novak Djokovic plays an event after the Australian Open and wins it, he will have guaranteed the top spot until 8 March no matter what Rafael Nadal does.

Given all the scenarios, it is quite clear that Rafael Nadal's chances of overtaking Novak Djokovic before 8 March are highly unlikely at best, and laughably impossible at worst. Even if Djokovic loses all his matches in Melbourne and Nadal wins all of his, the Spaniard would still have to make the wildly unprecedented move of entering a tiny tournament for a measly 45 ranking points.

The friendship of Roger Federer is likely not strong enough to make Rafael Nadal go to such lengths. As things stand right now, Novak Djokovic seems all but guaranteed to claim the record for most weeks at No. 1 come 8 March.

Published 22 Dec 2020, 02:02 IST
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