Down the Line: Murray vs Djokovic - Battle for World No1

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Murray and Djokovic are battling for top spot.

One event, two men, and a fight for the No1 ranking – that’s what we can look forward to this week at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris-Bercy.

Add to that the fact that seven players are still mathematically in contention for the remaining two ATP World Tour Finals spots in London and we could get one of the most exciting Paris Masters we’ve had in recent years.

Maybe it’s just me, but the word ‘exciting’ is not necessarily the word you’d typically associate with the Paris Masters. It’s so late in the season, with only one week separating it from the season finale at the O2 in London and so often you can expect high-profile early exits or withdrawals.

This year is different though with lots on the line for many of the players. Andy Murray, riding a 15-match winning streak, is a mere 415 points behind Novak Djokovic in the ATP Race to London and the Scot could leave Paris as the new world No1 for the first time in his career, having spent a total of 76 weeks in the No2 position.

Murray is carrying some incredible momentum, and has been the in-form player of the past six months. He has won his last three straight tournaments, in Beijing, Shanghai and Vienna, and is tied with Djokovic as the players with most titles captured in 2016, having each captured seven trophies. Djokovic on the other hand is title-less since Toronto in July, and has admitted to some mental fatigue and lack of motivation.

The way the Serb has described his current struggles, it almost sounds like he’s painting a bleaker picture than there actually is. He had personal problems that might have affected his early loss at Wimbledon, he won Toronto, had a terrible first-round draw in Juan Martin del Potro at the Olympics, lost a close one to Stan Wawrinka in the US Open final, then fell to a fired up Roberto Bautista Agut in the Shanghai semis. Add wrist and shoulder injuries to the situation and you’ll find that Djokovic is far from being in crisis-mode.

ATP-World-Tour-Rankings

Murray breathing down his neck in the rankings could actually fuel Djokovic’s desire in this home stretch of 2016. With no indoor matches under his belt, Djokovic opted to play doubles alongside his compatriot Nenad Zimonjic on Monday night in Paris (they lost to Halys/Mannarino), and he is clearly serious about his title defence in the French capital this week.

On his part, Murray is staying realistic about his chances of replacing Djokovic as No1.

“I can obviously try and win my matches, but even if I win all of my matches this week, I still might not get there,” the reigning Wimbledon champion told reporters in Paris on Monday.

“So it’s in Novak’s hands. He’s ahead obviously just now, so if he wins his matches and gets to the latter stages of the last two tournaments, then he’ll most likely keep the No1 spot.

“I don’t feel any differently now to how I did kind of six, eight weeks ago. My goal wasn’t to finish as No1 at the end of this year. I wanted to finish this year as strong as possible and I think there is a lot stronger chance of doing it in the early part of next year, which is what I targeted rather than this week.”

Meanwhile, a host of players are looking to join Djokovic, Murray, Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, and Gael Monfils in the elite-eighth season finale in London.

Contenders Dominic Thiem, David Goffin and freshly-crowned Basel champion Marin Cilic are all in the top half of the Paris draw while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych, Lucas Pouille and Roberto Bautista Agut are in the bottom.

If I had to pick two of those to play in London, I’d probably pick Pouille and Tsonga simply based on the fact that their style of play and flair would fit nicely with the atmosphere at the O2. Is three Frenchmen in London though too much for the tournament to handle? Who knows…

I would have gone for Thiem had this been a tournament in the first half of the season. The Austrian unfortunately mis-managed his schedule in 2016 and has run out of steam. This will no doubt prove a life lesson for him for the future.

Race to London:

Seven players can clinch one of the two remaining ATP Finals spots. Here’s how they can guarantee qualification:

Dominic Thiem – Must reach the Paris final
Marin Cilic – Must reach the Paris final
Tomas Berdych – Must win the title
David Goffin – Must win the title
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga – Must win the title and other players’ results must go his way
Roberto Bautista Agut – Must win the title and other players’ results must go his way
Lucas Pouille – Must win the title and other players’ results must go his way

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