Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon previews the stretch run of the 2018 season.

In tennis, just when you think that the season might jump into overdrive because the end is near is right when we all…stop and take a breather?

It’s true.

The men’s tennis season is a 12-month grind that really only lasts 11 months and culminates with the Big Party in the Big Apple in September—only, this isn’t perfect either because when you glance over the calendar page on the ATP World Tour website, you realize that not a whole lot happens during the month of September.

We only have a few weeks and you just decide to put things on ice for a bit?

Well alright, then.

On the bright side, this gives us the chance to take a step back and assess where things stand and where they might be going. In other words: let’s see if we can’t predict which player will finish the 2018 season as the No. 1-ranked player in the world.

As things stand today, Rafael Nadal is first with 8,760 points, Roger Federer is second with 6,900 and Novak Djokovic, third with 6,445. Who finishes first?

The one with the inside track: Rafael Nadal

In tennis as in life, it’s always easiest to remain in place compared to stealing someone else’s and for that reason, we’ll say that Nadal’s path to the year-end No. 1 ranking could be the easiest. The Spaniard is healthy and has been on an absolute tear over the past 18 months or so. This year in 2018, Nadal has five titles, over $8 million in prize money and lost only four his of 49 matches. A bet on Nadal is a fairly safe one.

The favourite: Novak Djokovic

Is there a way to make a better return on investment than the “safe” bet of the above? Out of all those with a chance to reach the mountaintop here, Djokovic is likely the safest bet: we’ll remember that a year ago the Serb had left the tour after Wimbledon, so it’s really all been gravy for him since July. Consequently, Djokovic has been playing the best tennis of anyone on the tour since the grass season.

It might have taken a long time, something like two years, but it seems like the Djokovic of old is finally back and that he’s nursed or fixed any physical or physiological ailment that had hindered his play beforehand.

When the Djoker is right, he makes the very act of playing tennis seem like a fairly basic and easy exercise when it’s anything but. When the Djoker is right, most matches and points he plays feel like foregone conclusions because there’s very little he can’t do on a tennis court. When the Djoker is right, he meets every challenge and challenger heads-on, perhaps more than any of his counterparts. When the Djoker is right, he’s an intimidating presence who forces his opponents to paint the outer parts of the lines with their every shot, because anything else doesn’t even really bother the Serb at all—and if you can’t bother him, what chance of winning do you even have?

And in 2018, the Djoker is finally right again.

The people’s choice: Roger Federer

That all said, seeing Roger Federer finish the calendar as No. 1 in the world would be the tennis equivalent to seeing the big present under the Christmas tree with a bow on it. The Swiss will have to work for his perfect ending however, as he has 2,100 points to defend from his 2017 run after the US Open. He just might have been up to the task another year, but we just can’t shake the sight of a defeated and overwhelmed Federer bowing out early this year at the US Open.

Of course, it might just be someone different entirely. Like, say, Juan Martin del Potro? We wouldn’t mind, not one bit.

Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG


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