Race for top spot heats up ahead of London Masters
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Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal will step into the London O2 Arena with the world number one ranking in their sights.
After a season that began with Federer in floods of tears at the Australian Open and Spain's Nadal seemingly on the verge of complete domination, men's tennis has come full circle with the Swiss maestro now once again leaving the rest in his wake.
As London's O2 Arena on the River Thames prepares to welcome the world's top eight singles players, tournament organisers could not have wished for a better scenario to launch the city's five-year stint as hosts.
Federer - who completed a career grand slam at the French Open this year, before claiming a sixth Wimbledon title to surpass Pete Sampras's record of fourteen majors - is firmly in the driving seat to end the year as number one.
But Wednesday's draw has opened up the possibility of some late twists and turns in the season finale, which splits eight of the world's top nine players into two round-robin groups. Federer, a four-time winner, must face Britain's world number four Andy Murray, a player he has lost to on six out of their nine previous meetings.
Juan Martin del Potro, the Argentine who stunned the Swiss champion in the US Open final, and the dangerous Spanish dynamo Fernando Verdasco also await him in Group A.
Nadal, who trails Federer by 945 points, but could pocket 1,500 if he leaves London undefeated, will take on in-form Novak Djokovic and Russian stalwart Nikolay Davydenko in Group B.
The Spaniard must also face Sweden's Robin Soderling, the man who ended his hopes of five consecutive French Open titles.
On paper, Nadal has the easier task, but he has not looked in peak condition in recent weeks.
The Spaniard lost heavily to Serbia's Djokovic in the quarter-finals of last week's Paris Masters after having saved five match points in a previous match against Nicolas Almagro.
That typically gutsy display against Almagro -- and Federer's surprise loss to Julien Benneteau -- kept the race to be number one alive at least, but Australian Open champion Nadal will probably need to win the title unless the Swiss falls at the group stage.
Roger Federer (SWI), Andy Murray (GBR), Juan Martin Del Potro (ARG), Fernando Verdasco (SPN)
Rafael Nadal (SPN), Novak Djokovic (SRB), Nikolay Davydenko (RUS), Robin Soderling (SWE)