By Nick Georgandis
Bizarre as it may sound, the player who poses the biggest threat to Novak Djokovic finishing a third straight season ranked No. 1 in the world is the man who currently has barely half of the Serbian's point total.
Yes, current world No. 5 Rafael Nadal is the dark horse in the five-man race to become No. 1, thanks almost entirely to the fact that his season ended last year in the second round at Wimbledon, meaning pretty much anything he does this year at the All England Tennis Club, not to mention anything he does in the last five months of the 2013 season will be defense-free points.
As it stands, Djokovic had 12,500 points in his ledger entering Monte Carlo, followed by No. 2 Andy Murray (8,750); No. 3 Roger Federer (8,670), No. 4 David Ferrer (6,970) and No. 5 Nadal (6,385).
The top three, Djokvoic, Murray and Federer will all see point drops at the end of July when the 52-week rolling ratings pass the anniversary of last year's London Olympics. Gold medalist Murray will see 750 points shaved off his total, silver medalist Federer 450 and bronze winner Djokovic will lose 270.
Despite winning just one major in 2012, Djokovic entered Monte Carlo with a whopping 9,380 points left to defend in 2013, more than double the total the oft-injured Nadal has left to defend, no surprise consider his season ended at Wimbledon a year ago.
Djokovic is currently fighting an ankle injury, and while it hasn't kept him from reaching the Monte Carlo quarterfinals, it may well keep him on the sidelines for a tournament or two as he tries to save his best tennis for the Grand Slams.
In the two years prior to last season's injury, Nadal averaged 4,700 points per season from Wimbledon through to the end of the year.
Nadal must defend his clay court titles at Monte Carlo, Rome, Barcelona and Roland Garros to keep his points this spring. He fell in the second rounds of Halle and Madrid last year.
In the two years previous to his injury, Nadal averaged 4,700 points from Wimbledon through the end of the regular season. If he defends all of his clay court points and hits that 4,700 mark for the remainder of 2013, he would be at 11,085 for the year, a little more than 1,000 points away from Djokovic's current total minus the figure the Serbian will lose post-Olympics.
Both Murray and Federer currently lead Nadal by more than 2,000 points for their respective spots at No. 2 and 3, but each has more than 6,000 points to defend the rest of the way, including a Slam each to defend.
Despite being ranked ahead of Nadal currently, Ferrer is again rather the forgotten man, largely because he has no Slams to his credit.
Ferrer has 5,220 points to defend the rest of the way, less than any of the top five sans Nadal, and if he could just break through to his first Slam final or title, he would also be a serious threat to move into the Top 3.