As the world tries to regain a semblance of normalcy amidst the coronavirus pandemic, the ATP tour is getting ready to resume as well. Competitive tennis is scheduled to be back in August, with the Citi Open in Washington followed by a series of other tournaments. And Roger Federer will miss all of them due to his recurring knee problems.
The end of 2020 will see two Grand Slams and three Masters 1000 tournaments crunched within a span of six weeks, making for a thoroughly congested calendar. But the good news is that the ATP has come up with a revised 22-month ranking system - as opposed to the current 52-week one - until things can become normal again.
That will be a huge relief to players who might understandably want to pull out of some tournaments considering the situation. Incidentally, it will also be helpful to Roger Federer as he sits on the sidelines nursing his knee back to full strength.
Under the regular 52-week ranking system, players who opted out of any tournament due to coronavirus fears or simply to protect their body from the cramped schedule would run the risk of losing a chunk of ranking points. However, the revised system ensures protection to such players, who will now be able to benefit from their previous year's performance in the said tournaments and thus protect their ranking.
How Roger Federer could benefit from the revised ranking system
The biggest beneficiary of the interim 22-month ranking system could be none other than the 20-time grand slam champion Roger Federer.
If the ATP had followed the normal-52 week ranking system during the pandemic, Roger Federer would have only just managed to keep his place in the top 10. He would have been massively helped by the cancellation of Wimbledon and the Miami Masters (where he held a combined 2,200 points), but he would've still suffered by skipping the US Open and Roland Garros.
If Wimbledon and the Sunshine Masters hadn't been cancelled, there was a possibility of Roger Federer dropping outside the top 70 for the first time since the turn of the century. He would've lost a total of 5,470 points in 2020, considering he would've played only one tournament in the year. In that respect, the COVID-19 outbreak had already benefited Federer and his ranking, even before the announcement of the revised rules.
Now under the new system, Roger Federer certainly won't be able to gain any positions in the rankings. However, he can actually retain his place in the top 4 if the players on his tail - namely Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev - don't better their tournament results from 2019.
Medvedev, being a mere 740 points behind Roger Federer, still has a good chance to overtake the legend with a good run in the clay season. But the Russian will find it hard to make up any ground during the American swing; bettering previous year's results for him would mean no less than winning the US Open.
Tsitsipas, who currently trails Roger Federer by 1,885 points at No. 6, has a shot at all 2,000 points at the US Open since he lost in the opening round last year to Andrey Rublev. If the ATP Finals champion loses out on his US Open opportunity, he has a total of 2,860 points on offer to gain ranking places in the clay swing. But that is easier said than done; for Tsitsipas, bettering his 2019 results on clay would mean winning Madrid, reaching the final at Rome and the quarterfinals at Roland Garros.
The current No. 7 Alexander Zverev, who trails Roger Federer by exactly 3,000 points, also has a small chance of overtaking the Swiss. Zverev has 2,775 points to gain in the American swing and 3,415 in the clay swing.
If Medvedev, Tsitsipas and Zverev all manage to better their 2019 results in the remain tournaments of 2020, then they will all overtake Roger Federer. That is a long shot, but assuming it does happen, No. 7 is the lowest that Federer can realistically fall to.
And if all three of these players fail to better their 2019 results, then the Swiss could even be ranked as high as No. 4 when he returns to the tour next year.
In other words, Roger Federer is likely to remain in the top 8 irrespective of what the other players do in the rest of 2020. That means he would avoid the possibility of a potential Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic clash before the quarterfinals at the 2021 Australian Open.
It is also interesting to note that Roger Federer actually has a chance to qualify for the ATP Finals 2020 in London despite playing only one tournament in the calendar year. The qualification, however, would be rendered meaningless given that Federer has already called it a season.
Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will also get a big boost with the new system
Roger Federer is the not the only tennis great who will benefit from the revised ranking system. His lifelong rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic also stand to gain a lot from the new rules.
Rafael Nadal had found himself in a bit of a pickle when the new ATP calendar was announced. The Spaniard is the defending champion at both the US Open and Roland Garros, and in addition the World No. 2 is also defending 1,360 points in Madrid and Rome. Missing even one of these tournaments - especially either of the Slams - could have had a huge impact on Nadal's ranking even if he had won all other tournaments he participated in.
At the same time, playing five top-tier tournaments within a span of six weeks, including two Majors geographically separated by different hemispheres, would undoubtedly be too much to take for the King of Clay's 34-year-old body.
Thanks to the ATP's decision, Nadal is now in a position to choose the tournaments he wants to play without the stress of losing precious ranking points.
However, the 22-month system means the 19-time Grand Slam champion cannot gain a lot of points even if he decides to go berserk and play all the tournaments. Even if Nadal wins all five big tournaments, he would add a mere 1,640 points to his existing tally; he has no scope of bettering his title-winning performances at Rome, New York and Paris.
That brings into the picture World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. The Serb's current total of 10,220 points means that he would have to add only 1,280 points from a possible total of 4,140 points to retain his No. 1 crown - even if the Spaniard were to win everything in sight.
That would give Djokovic a major boost in his quest to topple Roger Federer's record of 310 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings. The 17-time Grand Slam champion currently sits at 282 weeks, with the count frozen at that number until the tour resumes.
If Djokovic manages to keep his No. 1 spot until the end of the year, it should put him somewhere over 300 weeks at No. 1 - with Roger Federer's record all but upstaged.
Dominic Thiem with an outside chance to be No. 1
One man who could unwittingly be the savior of Roger Federer's record is Dominic Thiem. Because of the new system, the Austrian has an outside chance of overtaking Novak Djokovic for the top spot.
The current World No. 3 sits at 7,045 points, which is a good 3,175 points below Novak Djokovic. Thiem, however, can gain a total of 5,340 points over the next three months by bettering his previous year's results.
Everyone knows that if there is one player who is crazy enough to play five big tournaments in six weeks, it is Dominic Thiem. But the three-time Slam finalist will have to do well at the US Open along with Cincinnati and Rome; these three tournaments have the biggest gaining potential for him, with a total of 3,900 possible points.
Winning so much in such a short period of time could be a tall order even for the supreme athlete that is Dominic Thiem. But Roger Federer fans will be resting their hopes on the Austrian pulling off the seemingly impossible.Published 07 Jul 2020, 22:18 IST