Rafael Nadal close to disposing Novak Djokovic as world No 1

It would be a remarkable return for the Spaniard

Rafael Nadal embarks on the China Open in Beijing on Tuesday against Colombian opponent Santiago Giraldo knowing that if he reaches the final he will return to the top of the world rankings next Monday – even if the current No 1 Novak Djokovic wins the title.

Since returning in February from a seven-month injury lay-off, Nadal has lost only three matches and won 10  titles. With no ranking points to defend between now and the ATP World Tour finals in London next month, the  27-year-old Spaniard looks a strong  favourite to climb above the Serb.

“It will be very tough,” Nadal said. “I hope to have my chance here or in the next few weeks.”

The defending champion Victoria Azarenka was knocked out in the first round on Monday, losing 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 to Andrea Petkovic of Germany. The second-ranked Azarenka double-faulted 15 times and was broken five times by Petkovic, who reached the tournament’s final in 2011.

“I’m very happy with my performance,” Petkovic said. “I was happy with my movement and my serve for the most part, and I managed to get a lot of balls back very deep and very strong. Parts of the match were a really, really good level – some parts I lost a bit of energy, but overall I’m very happy.”

It was the second tournament in a row in which Azarenka lost her first match, having been beaten by Venus Williams in Tokyo last week.

“It was an awful match and a very bad performance from me, so there’s not much to say about it,” Azarenka said. “It happens once, twice a year to every player, and it happened to me today.”

Also on Monday , the eighth-seeded Jelena Jankovic rallied for a 1-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia.