Rafael Nadal has spent three years waiting for the chance to overtake Roger Federer, but just when he had the world No 1 in his sights the Spaniard has a challenger looming large in his own wing mirror. Novak Djokovic, fresh from his victory here yesterday over Stanislas Wawrinka in the final of the Rome Masters, could replace Nadal as the world No 2 at the end of this week's Masters Series event in Hamburg.
Djokovic, the most successful player in the world this year, beat Wawrinka 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to move to within 310 ranking points of Nadal's total of 5,435. Having reached the final in Hamburg last year (when Djokovic made the quarter-finals), Nadal has 350 points to defend in Germany and there are question marks over his fitness after he was troubled by blisters in his second-round defeat here to Juan Carlos Ferrero.
With Federer's physical condition and form also in doubt – the world No 1 had glandular fever at the start of the year and suffered a sixth defeat of the campaign against Radek Stepanek on Friday – Djokovic is the form player going into the French Open, which begins in Paris in 13 days' time. Of the last 12 Masters events – which are the most important after the four Grand Slams – Djokovic has won four, Nadal three and Federer two.
Djokovic had a comparatively easy passage to the final here after the retirements of his quarter-final and semi-final opponents, but Wawrinka was a different proposition. The 23-year-old Swiss has had the best week of his career and will jump 14 places to No 10 in today's world rankings, giving Switzerland two players in the top 10 for the first time.
Striking the ball with great power and consistency, particularly on his backhand, Wawrinka broke in the fifth game and served out to take the first set. Djokovic looked well below his best in the early stages, but once he had broken to lead 4-2 in the second set the Serb took command.
The Australian Open champion wore his opponent down with the sheer consistency of his ground strokes and wrapped up his victory after two hours and four minutes with a majestic inside-out forehand winner.
* Britain's Andy Murray has been drawn against Dmitry Tursunov of Russia in the first round of the Hamburg Masters.