Rafael Nadal will replace Andy Murray as the men's number one in the ATP ranking next week, after Roger Federer confirmed he will not play in the Cincinnati Open in order to rest a slight injury.
Federer was the one player who could have stopped Nadal's ascent to the summit were he to play next week and outperform the Spaniard, but the absence of Andy Murray guaranteed that at least one of them would go top. The Scot will now slip to third place.
For Murray, the loss of the top ranking after 41 weeks has been the result of a succession of injuries, illness and loss of form this year. The Scot was unable to repeat his Wimbledon victory of 2016, or his runs to the finals of the Australian and French Opens, which meant he has seen his points total drop to 7,750, with Nadal on 7,555 and Federer 7,145. Murray loses top spot because he cannot defend the points in Cincinnati from last year, when he was the runner-up to Marin Cilic.
The fact that Nadal has been able to return to the top spot is remarkable, given that many felt his career was winding down last year after wrist surgery.
Indeed, while the form of Federer, now 36, continues to astound, the Spaniard's return to form in reaching the Australian Open and getting back to his imperious best on clay to win the French Open without dropping a set has been barely any less of a story. It may be that the big narrative for the rest of the year is the battle for the top spot between him and Federer. With no points for either player to defend, they should soon be uncatchable for Murray even if the Briton does temporarily re-take top spot by winning a second US Open title.
Fans booking corporate hospitality for the Nitto ATP World Tour finals at the O2 in November may even get to see a repeat of last year, when Murray ensured the year end number one ranking only by winning the final against Novak Djokovic, who had just lost top spot and was battling to get it back.
While Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are taking the rest of this year off to recover from injury, the line-up at the O2 is increasingly likely to feature a youngster who could emerge as the next superstar. Alex Zverev clinched his fifth title of the year at the weekend by defeating Federer in the final of the Montreal Masters, one of the few tournaments he has never won. The performance not only avenged Federer's victory on the grass at Halle shortly before Wimbledon; it levelled up their head-to-head at two wins each.
Zverev is currently seventh in the world, one place above fellow rising star Dominic Thiem. In the race to qualify for London, however, they are third and fourth respectively behind Nadal and Federer. Murray is currently in eighth, but as those above him include Wawrinka and Djokovic, he is effectively sixth.