The tennis rankings can be a mystery to all but the most egg-headed of boffins but the Association of Tennis Professionals confirmed last night that Andy Murray will climb to No 3 in the world next week. By overtaking Novak Djokovic, the 21-year-old Scot will become the highest-ranked British man since the rankings were introduced 36 years ago, overtaking Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski, who both reached No 4.
Djokovic, nevertheless, might feel more than a little unlucky to lose a position he has held since August 2007. While the Serb reached yesterday's final of the Rome Masters, Murray lost in the third round, as he did last year. The rankings are based on a rolling 12-month points total and, because he won the tournament last year, Djokovic will lose 400 points in next week's updated list as a result of his 7-6, 6-2 defeat to Rafael Nadal. While Murray has some way to go before he might be acclaimed as the best player in British history – Fred Perry won three successive Wimbledons in the 1930s – he is rapidly overhauling the marks set by Henman and Rusedski.
He will become world No 3 next Monday, four days before his 22nd birthday. Henman and Rusedski reached their highest rankings at 28 and 24 respectively. Murray's haul of 11 titles already matches Henman's career total and is just four short of Rusedski's.
Djokovic, however, has enjoyed a good clay-court campaign, having also reached the final in Monte Carlo and beaten Roger Federer in the Rome semi-finals. He appears this week in a new event in Belgrade, where his uncle is the tournament director, but cannot earn enough ranking points there to stay ahead of Murray. All the top players then head for next week's Madrid Masters, the last major competition before the French Open begins.
Nadal's victory was his 30th in succession on clay. It was his third title of the current clay-court season following his successes in Monte Carlo and Barcelona, the 36th of his career, and his 15th Masters crown, beating Federer's total and leaving him just two short of Andre Agassi's record.
Djokovic, who was the last player to take a set off Nadal when he did so in the Monte Carlo final a fortnight ago, broke the Spaniard's serve twice in the first set, but after winning the tie-break 7-2 the world No 1 eased to a comfortable victory. "It's been an incredible week for me," Nadal said. "You think to yourself that it's impossible to repeat what I achieved last year but so far I've done it."