Roger Federer has moved within touching distance of the world No.1 position and admitted he is considering entering next month’s Dubai Open, which could offer him the best chance of replacing Rafael Nadal at the top of the rankings.
Federer is just 155 points behind Nadal after successfully defending his Australian Open title in Melbourne, when he beat Marin Cilic 6-2, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in Sunday's final.
The 36-year-old has yet to confirm his schedule for the rest of the year, but given that he is likely to skip the entire clay-court season again in order to focus on his Wimbledon preparations, his best chance of reclaiming the No1 position could come next month.
With maximum points to defend in Indian Wells and Miami in March, Dubai might be Federer’s only opportunity to increase his rankings points before the grass-court season starts in June.
Nadal, who dropped 840 ranking points when he lost in the quarter-finals here, is due to play in next month’s Acapulco tournament in the same week as Dubai.
Nadal will be defending 300 points as last year’s runner-up, while Federer would have only 45 points to defend in Dubai after his surprising second-round defeat to Evgeny Donskoy 12 months ago.
It means Nadal would have to out-perform Federer that week to have a chance of retaining his No 1 position - and even that might not be enough. For example, even if the Spaniard finished runner-up in Acapulco again, Federer would need only to reach the semi-finals in Dubai to overtake his great rival.
Nadal has entered Acapulco and still hopes to play there, despite the hip injury which forced him to retire during his quarter-final here last week against Cilic. If he did not reappear until Indian Wells, Federer would automatically overtake him.
Federer, who last topped the rankings six years ago, has not entered Dubai yet, but would likely be given a wild card if he requested one.
The world No2 is returning home to Switzerland this week but has a warm-weather base in Dubai and has been a regular competitor there over the years.
He admitted on Monday he had been in talks with the tournament about playing there next month but had told organisers he wanted to delay a decision until after the Australian Open.
“I also have to decide about the clay-court season, so all these things are inter-linked,” Federer said. “It’s possible I’ll play [in Dubai] but it’s also possible that maybe I just don’t play anything. It depends on how the next week or so goes. Then I’ll make a decision.”
During his emotional on-court victory speech here yesterday following his victory, Federer failed to say that he looked forward to returning next year, prompting speculation that this might be his final season.
“I couldn’t really remember what I was saying at the end,” Federer said this morning after meeting Linda Dessau, the Governor of Victoria, at Government House.
“All I wanted to say was a big thank you. There are a lot of people to thank in a moment like this. But of course I hope to come back next year.”
Federer, who admitted he was “very tired” after “a great couple of weeks”, had said before the tournament that there was no way that a 36-year-old should be considered the favourite to win the title.
He admitted on Monday that before it began he had been unsure about whether he would be able to win the title again.
“Like last year, I just felt that something was going to come in my way, that one guy would catch fire and I would not be able to stop him.
“Next year when I do come back I might actually believe I can win it - but then I probably won’t win it, so it’s better to stay really relaxed about my chances, especially in my later years on the tour. I think it’s served me well, that I stay more relaxed throughout.”
With his 20 Grand Slam singles titles Federer is four ahead of Nadal, his closest male rival, but four behind Margaret Court’s all-time record.
Did he think it might be possible for him to match Court’s tally?
“I don’t think so,” Federer said. “I didn’t think 20 was ever possible to be honest.
"I think it’s too far. It’s not something I’m looking at. I’ve never thought about it to be honest.
"Those numbers are surreal. They’re amazing. I’d be very happy if it stays at 20.”