Rafael Nadal is eyeing the tantalising prospect of becoming world number one again if he can win the China Open this week.
With no ranking points to defend until February, Nadal is poised to overtake Novak Djokovic and become world number one again at some point before the end of the season. After the glittering array of silverware he has amassed this season, few can argue that the Spaniard has been the strongest player on the tour this year.
He could usurp Djokovic at the China Open this week. For the Serb to keep Nadal at bay until next week's Shanghai Masters, he must win the Beijing title for the fourth time but if Nadal reaches the final then there is nothing Djokovic can do to stop his rival ascending to the top of the rankings.
However Nadal still insisted to the media in his pre-tournament press conference that it will be tough for him to finish as year-end number one.
“I don't know what I need to do to become No. 1, but the only way I can do it is playing my best,” Nadal said. “[It] will be very tough to become No. 1. But if I am still playing the same way that I have the past couple of months, I hope to have my chance here or in the next few weeks."
“This year, even if I started a little bit later [in early February], I am completing a great season. I'm playing one of the best seasons of my career. That's why I'm in a good position in the Rankings and I had great successes in the important tournaments.”
Nadal is looking to win the China Open for the first time since 2005. He begins against a qualifier and will face his first big test in the quarter-finals, probably against Tommy Haas.