The third coming of Federer, the great survivor

If the Swiss master regains world No 1 ranking a third time it will be his greatest feat yet, argues Paul Newman

Pete Sampras has spent most of his retirement watching his entries in the record books being rubbed out. The American must have heaved a sigh of relief two summers ago when Roger Federer lost his world No 1 ranking for the second time. Federer, who had regained the top spot 11 months earlier, had taken his total number of weeks at the head of the list to 285, just one week fewer than Sampras' all-time record.

Within a month of being toppled, Federer had dropped to No 3, his first taste of life outside the top-two ranking positions for more than six years. As Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic built thereafter on their standing as the world's two best players it seemed that Federer's chances of removing another Sampras entry from the record books had gone for good.

Today, however, the Swiss is within striking distance of what would arguably be his greatest feat. After a remarkable five months in which he has won six of the eight tournaments in which he has competed, he has the world No 1 ranking – and Sampras' record – back in his sights.

The rankings are based on a rolling total of points won over the last 12 months. Djokovic is the current leader, but Federer has won more points than any other player in the last seven months and now has the chance to gain even further ground in the next two months, beginning with this week's Miami Masters. Indeed, if he has a reasonable run during the forthcoming clay and grass-court seasons, the likelihood is he would overtake both Nadal and Djokovic.

Regaining the No 1 spot would eclipse even Federer's remarkable return to the top three years ago, when he took advantage of the knee problems Nadal suffered at the French Open, after which the Spaniard was unable to defend his Wimbledon title. This time 30-year-old Federer is competing against younger – and fully fit – rivals in 25-year-old Nadal and 24-year-olds Djokovic and Andy Murray.

While Federer insisted that regaining the world No 1 ranking was not uppermost in his thoughts, he admitted that it was a long-term goal. "It doesn't drive me on a daily basis, but I feel like if I play really well from here till the US Open obviously there is a shot," he said. "I'm aware that I'm not the only one, but I feel like I'm on a good run right now."