There was a time when Rafael Nadal struggled in the closing months of the season but the world No 1 is in no mood to stop winning this year. Having won the US Open for the first time last month, Nadal claimed his seventh title of the season yesterday when he beat Gaël Monfils 6-1, 7-5 to win the Japan Open in Tokyo.
Given his indifferent form 12 months ago, the 24-year-old Spaniard could gain enough points in the coming weeks to establish the biggest lead in the history of the world rankings. He still has this week's Shanghai Masters, in which he lost to Nikolay Davydenko in the final last year, the Paris Masters, where he has semi-final points to defend, and the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London, where he lost all three of his matches last November.
Nadal had to save two match points to beat Viktor Troicki in the Tokyo semi-finals but rarely looked in trouble against Monfils. "I want to finish the season well and winning titles is a prefect way to finish," he said after claiming the 43rd title of his career. "It's difficult to keep winning. I have to enjoy these moments, because you never know when they will end. I'm going to try to keep it going in Shanghai and the rest of the season and in London - the most difficult tournament for me."
All the world's top 20 players will be in Shanghai, including Andy Murray, who has a bye in the first round, after which he will meet Radek Stepanek or Yan Bai, a local wild card. He is seeded to face Nadal in the semi-finals, with Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer lined up to meet in the other. Having missed the tournament last year with a wrist injury, Murray has the chance to pick up useful points in defence of his No 4 position in the rankings.
Djokovic, who has joined Federer and Nadal as the only certain qualifiers for the World Tour Finals, will be a late arrival in Shanghai after heavy rain halted his China Open final in Beijing yesterday when he was leading Spain's David Ferrer 3-1. Earlier in the week smog had been a problem, with Djokovic suggesting that oxygen tanks should be made available to help players breathe on court. Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva never even made it on to the court yesterday for the women's final. Like the men's event, it has been rescheduled for today.
Whatever the outcome, Wozniacki will climb to No 1 in today's updated world rankings. The 20-year-old Dane, the first player of either sex from her country to reach the top, replaces Serena Williams, who has not played since winning Wimbledon three months ago.
Williams had surgery after cutting her foot on broken glass in July. The American had been due to return this week in Linz, Austria, but pulled out after feeling pain in her foot while training on Saturday. A scan showed that her injury had not healed completely.