Tennis history was made on Monday as the top two positions in the ATP rankings were filled by Spain’s Carlos Alcaraz and Rafael Nadal and now the race is on to secure one of the most prestigious titles in the sport.
Alcaraz and Nadal’s presence atop the rankings was a moment to savour for Spanish tennis as this was the first occasion in more than 22 years that two players from the same nation sat in the top two spots.
The last time this happened was when America’s Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi reached that peak in August 2000.
Now the game’s new top two are gearing up for a season finale that could end almost two decades of dominance for the game’s ‘Big Four’.
Since 2004, the ATP year-end No.1 title has been claimed by Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Nadal, with Scotland’s Andy Murray the only player to disrupt their dominance after he finished 2016 at the top of the rankings.
Yet a new name could now be ready to disrupt that list, with current world No.1 Alcaraz in pole position to add a year-end No.1 success to his US Open win last month.
Lift the trophy, @carlosalcaraz! 🏆
Let the confetti fly 🎉 pic.twitter.com/F2cfoFX0lO
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 12, 2022
Nadal still has a real chance to knock his teenage compatriot off the top spot in the final weeks of the season, as the player who clinched the first two Grand Slam titles of 2022 has no points to defend in the coming weeks, as he wrapped up his 2021 season early due to injury. Doubts, however, linger over the 22-time Grand Slam champion’s ongoing fitness issues.
Nadal is also set to become a father in the next few weeks and that could also impact his playing schedule, with Alcaraz set to leap out of the blocks first in the race for the year-end No.1 ranking as he plays at the Astana Open in Kazakhstan this week.
Djokovic and Daniil Medvedev are also on a strong entry list for this event, with Alcaraz set to play as the world’s top-rated player for the first time.
Events in Vienna and Basel could also play a role in the race to end the year as world No.1, with Alcaraz and Nadal also set to play in the Paris Masters which concludes a week before the ATP Finals in Turin in mid-November.
It may well be that Alcaraz and Nadal head into the final event of the season with the No.1 ranking up for grabs and the star men from this tennis season lining up for a thrilling finale.
Given the uncertainty over Nadal’s ability to compete at the highest level physically, Alcaraz may be the favourite to claim the crown and in the opinion of former British No.1 Annabel Croft, tennis finally has a player who is ready to change the narrative at the top of the game.
Nadal & Alcaraz's first practice together 😎
Hopefully the first of many! 🙌
— ATP Tour (@atptour) February 6, 2021
“Being court-side watching Alcaraz is absolutely mind-blowing,” Croft told Tennis365. “I never thought I’d see someone come along this quickly having seen the greatest with Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
“The speed he has around the court and the power he has to turn defence into attack… his volleys are also so beautiful. His level is so high compared to everyone else and I think he is going to have an aura on the court.
“It’s so exciting for the game to have a player like this coming through who will be so popular with younger fans.
“We were waiting to see who could step in when Federer, Nadal and Djokovic were no longer at the top and players like Alcaraz look like they could be ready to do that now.”
Writing off the game’s modern greats has proved to be a fools game and Nadal may well prevail in his bid to be crowned as year-end world No 1 for the sixth time, which would leave him one off the record held by his great rival Djokovic.
Yet the tennis landscape is starting to shift towards the next generation, with Alcaraz leading that charge.