It’s been a long time coming but Rafael Nadal can finally celebrate becoming the year-end world No 1 for the fourth time in his career – and this will surely taste sweeter than any of his previous three, writes Raz Mirza.
A hoped-for fight to the finish for the No 1 ranking at next month’s ATP Finals in London will be a coronation for the great Spaniard ahead of his closest challenger Roger Federer.
Federer’s eighth Swiss Indoors title on Sunday reduced the points gap on Nadal to 1,460 points, but his subsequent withdrawal from this week’s Paris Masters was a blow to hopes of a collision course for the year-end No 1 with his great rival at London’s O2.
Is Nadal the greatest?
With 1,500 points available in the capital for winning the title, Nadal got the win he required against promising South Korean Hyeon Chung in Paris on Wednesday to put himself out of reach of the 19-time Grand Slam champion and become the oldest man to finish a season at the top of the rankings at the age of 31.
Nadal first ascended to No 1 in the world in August 2008, at the age of 22, and has spent a total of 151 weeks – and counting – at the top during his career.
Having suffered with injuries to his knees over the last few years, Nadal cut his season short last year due to a wrist injury, and as a consequence doubts surfaced as to whether the Spaniard could return the same player.
Nadal struggled through matches due in large part to lack of self-belief, but he has returned to become the first man to hold, lose and regain the No 1 ranking four times (2008, 2010, 2013, 2017) thanks to his ability to adapt, reset, and conquer.
His never-say-die mentality and indefatigable defence since losing an enthralling Australian Open final to Federer in January has been his wall of defiance.
Being a break-up in the deciding set, Nadal looked to be on his way to a second Melbourne title, until the Swiss great found the momentum to rally to an unforgettable victory – many a player would be physiologically tortured from such an unravelling.
Not Rafa. His language is all about sledgehammer forehands and clubbing backhands. Uncle Toni, Francisco Roig, one of his coaches since 2005, and the legendary Carlos Moya have helped the 31-year-old from Mallorca reach the pinnacle of the game once again.
“Getting back to the top shows how good Rafa is, but also how long and successful his career has been,” Roig told the official ATP website.
He won the first of his French Open titles as a 19-year-old in 2005 and sealed the French Open – for an historic 10th time – earlier this summer after winning two landmark ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles in Monte-Carlo and Madrid and then another Barcelona Open.
The Spaniard responded from his Wimbledon exit to Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in the best way possible by taking a big bite of the apple in New York by clinching his third US Open title to make it 16th Grand Slams.
He added more silverware at the China Open to land his sixth tournament victory of the year and sealing top spot in the rankings has served up a clear warning to his closest rivals that Rafa is well and truly back to his best.
“It’s always important to finish the year as world No 1 because it means that you have been the most consistent and regular player from January until November,” Roig added.
Nadal is not one for resting on his laurels and his next goal will be to win his first-ever year-end ATP Finals and to end a sequence of five straight defeats to the ageless Federer.
2017 has been Rafa's year…
Like the scene from the classic film Raging Bull when Jake LaMotta told his great rival Sugar Ray Robinson during one of their six epic fights: “Hey, Ray, I never went down, man! You never got me down, Ray! You hear me, you never got me down.”
So wouldn’t it be a fitting end should Rafa and Roger meet in the final match of 2017 at London’s O2? The No 1 will have his eyes on the prize and a chance to deliver the ultimate knockout blow in a vintage year we may never see the like again.
Nadal’s 2017 Brisbane International Quarter-Finals [lost to Milos Raonic] Australian Open Final [lost to Roger Federer] Acapulco Final [lost to Sam Querrey] Indian Wells Last 16 [lost to Roger Federer] Miami Final [lost to Roger Federer] Monte Carlo Final [won against Albert Ramos-Vinolas] Barcelona Final [won against Dominic Thiem] Madrid Final [won against Dominic Thiem] Rome Quarter-Finals [lost to Dominic Thiem] French Open Final [won against Stan Wawrinka] Wimbledon Last 16 [lost to Gilles Muller] Montreal Last 16 [lost to Denis Shapovalov] Cincinnati Quarter-Finals [lost to Nick Kyrgios] US Open Final [won against Kevin Anderson] China Open Final [won against Nick Kyrgios] Shanghai Final [lost to Roger Federer] Win-Loss 65-10 Titles 6
All the action will be covered via our website www.skysports.com/tennis with live blogs, reports and expert analysis as the season reaches its climax.
On the move? Head to our app for mobile devices and iPad, or follow our Twitter account @SkySportsTennis to join in the conversation. Who will win the World Tour Finals this year? Have your say…