An intriguing week lies ahead as Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic dispute the world number one ranking at the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Britain’s Murray is into his second week as the world’s top-ranked player, having ended Djokovic’s 122-week vigil at the zenith of the men’s game, but the Serbian has an immediate opportunity to reimpose himself on the tour, and seal the prestigious year-end number one spot.
The beauty of the 2016 World Tour Finals is that both Murray and Djokovic have their destinies in their hands; and there are several permutations which could swing the year-end number one ranking in either man’s favour.
Murray currently holds the advantage, and he only needs to match whatever Djokovic does in London to hang on to the number one spot, but Djokovic will definitely overtake the Scot if he wins at least two of his three group matches, and goes on to win the tournament.
He may not need to go that far, of course, as even a semi-final finish could be good enough, should Murray have another disaster in London.
Djokovic and Murray have reasons to be both confident, and weary about their chances this week.
Djokovic has absolutely dominated the World Tour Finals in recent times, winning the last four editions of the tournament, but unlike previous years, when the Serbian had been the form player heading into London, he has been all over the place leading into this year’s event.
‘All over the place’, by his ridiculously high standards.
So much has been made of Djokovic’s ‘slump’ in the second half of 2016, but he still managed to contest the US Open final, win in Toronto, and reach the Cincinnati semis.
Unfortunately, those have been no where near good enough, given the heights Djokovic had set in the preceding 12 months.
Murray, though, has been on a tear in the second half of the season.
The world number one has won his last 18 matches, sweeping through four straight titles in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris.
Murray has all the form and momentum going into London, but the sole grey area remains his apparent inability to perform at the season-ending meet.
The 29-year-old has never contested the final at the 02, and hasn’t gone out of the group phase since 2012.
He has played a lot of tennis in recent times, and given the difficulty of his group at the Finals, another no-show on home soil isn’t entirely out of the question.
The luck of the draw has not smiled on the Scot, with Marin Cilic, Kei Nishikori and Stan Wawrinka all joining him in the John McEnroe group.
These are players who have given Murray serious problems in the past, and a couple have beaten him very recently too.
Nishikori famously stopped the Brit at the US Open quarters, while the in-form Cilic hit through Murray at the Cincinnati final.
Stan Wawrinka’s bulging big-match credentials will always be a major cause for worry.
While Murray looks set for a tough battle in the McEnroe group, Djokovic is the overwhelming favourite to roll through the Ivan Lendl group.
He already has a victory under his belt, recovering from an uncertain start to dismiss debutant, Dominic Thiem in three sets on Sunday, and with a combined 20-0 record against his next two opponents- Milos Raonic and Gael Monfils- the Serb is firm favourite to advance to the semi-finals unscathed.
Nothing is set in stone though.
Djokovic has already suffered first ever defeats to Roberto Bautista-Agut and Marin Cilic in the last two months, and for a set against Thiem on Sunday, a first ever loss to the Austrian seemed well on the cards.
That uncertainty is what makes up the intrigue at this year’s tournament.
Can Novak Djokovic snap out of this ‘slump’ and reenact the all-conquering form of his world-number-one best?
Or can Andy Murray escape a thorny group and protect his teething top-ranking?
We will find out at the end of the week!