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Reaching No 1 before the end of 2020: a tall order for Medvedev; still dependent on Djokovic

Daniil Medvedev is the only man who can threaten Novak Djokovic for the top spot at the end of the year but even after winning the US Open, he’ll probably need a clean sweep of the last few major tournaments to stand a chance

Novak Djokovic & Daniil Medvedev after the 2021 US Open Final Novak Djokovic & Daniil Medvedev after the 2021 US Open Final ©

In the immediate aftermath of Daniil Medvedev‘s US Open win, his coach Gilles Cervara made no secret of what the next challenge might be. Yes, he said, the quest for the world No 1 ranking could lead he and Medvedev to change their schedule for the end of the season.

The man himself remained lucid in the wake of his victory over Novak Djokovic, which gave him a first Grand Slam title; the mission looks particularly complicated. “I have Paris and the Masters (ATP Finals) to defend,” said Medvedev, who won both titles in 2020. “Novak, I don’t think he has much to defend. I honestly think it’s almost impossible”.

All predictions are difficult these days thanks to the changes in the way the ATP rankings are calculated due to the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. In the calendar-year ATP Race, Medvedev is only 2,000 points behind Djokovic (8,370 versus 6,380). But the situation is more convoluted in the ATP rankings, which will not return to their normal 52-week form until August 2022. Usually, the ATP rankings and Race standings become one and the same thing come the end of December; that’s not the case this year.

Indian Wells, Paris and ATP Finals, hopefully nothing more on Medvedev schedule

By the end of the year, Medvedev has 3,840 points to defend, as he still benefits from the points he earned from his titles in Shanghai and St Petersburg in 2019. Djokovic has only 2,193 points to lose in 2021, including his wins in Paris and Tokyo in 2019. Subtracting these points from their current totals of 10,780 points for Medvedev and 12,193 for Djokovic, the gap is just 3,000 points. This simplifies the calculations for the future.

Medvedev has to take back 3,000 points from Djokovic over the next two and a half months. This will almost necessarily mean winning at least two of Indian Wells, Paris and the ATP Finals, which this year will be held in Turin for the first time. Especially since the Russian has already confirmed that he will not be playing in Vienna, where he reached the quarter-finals in 2020.

Daniil Medvedev

“Vienna is scheduled the same week as St. Petersburg. It’s certain that I won’t play it, because I probably won’t play in St. Petersburg. Since it’s a tournament in Russia, I don’t see myself playing anywhere else.”

Medvedev’s schedule between now and the end of the season is therefore likely to be limited to the last two Masters 1000 tournaments and the ATP Finals, plus the Laver Cup, which doesn’t earn any ATP points, and possibly the Davis Cup, which does. To earn 3,000 points in these three tournaments, it’s clear: he will have to win two and be at least a finalist in the other. Not impossible, given Medvedev’s form and the end of the season he had in 2020. But still a tall order.

Will Djokovic return to the Tour in 2021?

And that’s assuming Djokovic, who appeared physically and nervously exhausted at the end of the US Open, doesn’t return to the circuit by the end of the year. The Serb has openly admitted that he wants to spend more time with his family. But completing a seventh season atop the ATP rankings, which would make him the record holder ahead of Pete Sampras, is a goal that could spur him to make one last push. Especially since he is only 500 points short of putting himself out of Medvedev’s reach (if the Russian does not add Vienna – ATP 500 – or St Petersburg – ATP 250 – to his schedule).

Novak Djokovic at the 2021 US Open © AI /Reuters/Panoramic

While it is almost certain that Djokovic will not return to the United States to compete in Indian Wells, he could appear on the European indoor tour, especially if he feels the Medvedev threat is becoming clearer. Which tournaments would he play then? Paris and the ATP Finals? Just the ATP Finals? Vienna or St. Petersburg in preparation for a real indoor season?

Even if he only plays in the Masters, Djokovic would secure his world No 1 ranking by reaching the semi-finals. A final in Bercy would also do it, as would a semi-final in Paris, coupled with a single group match win in Turin.

The goal of reaching the top of the world rankings could become clearer as the tournament progresses for Medvedev, who, it seems, is not obsessed with it. “It’s not the first goal I have in mind for this year. If I get there one day, it will be great.”

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