Playing his first match since retiring during the US Open semi-finals with a knee injury, Nadal enters the tournament with a 215-point lead over Djokovic in the ATP Rankings. But the Monday after the tournament the Spaniard will drop the 180 points he earned by reaching the Paris quarter-finals last year. So, with the 5 November Rankings in mind, Nadal in effect holds a razor-thin 35-point lead in the 52-week ATP Rankings over Djokovic, who missed Paris through injury last year and has no points to defend.
Nadal has held top spot since 25 June after several lead changes with Roger Federer earlier in the year. The 33-time ATP World Tour Masters 1000 champion has held the No. 1 ATP Ranking for 195 weeks, sixth in the all-time list (since 1973).
Should he dethrone Nadal on 5 November, Djokovic would be the first player to come from outside the Top 20 and reach No. 1 in the same season since Marat Safin in 2000. (Safin was as low as No. 38 on 28 February 2000 before becoming No. 1 on 20 November 2000). Djokovic, who underwent elbow surgery in February, began the year with a 6-6 record and slipped to No. 22 on 18 June.
He has spent a total of 223 weeks at No. 1 but last was on top on 31 October 2016. In Paris Djokovic is also trying to win a third consecutive ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title (Cincinnati, Shanghai) and equal Nadal’s record of 33 titles at the elite level.
Whichever player finishes one round better than the other in Paris will be No. 1 on 5 November. Should they both lose in the same round, Nadal will be No. 1. Regardless of what happens in Paris, the coveted year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking will be decided at the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held 11-18 November in London, where 1,500 points await an undefeated champion. Both Nadal and Djokovic are attempting to finish year-end No. 1 for a fifth time, tying Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors and moving closer to Pete Sampras’ record of six year-end finishes at the top.
Seeking his first Rolex Paris Masters title, Nadal will open against the winner of French veteran Jeremy Chardy and fellow lefty Fernando Verdasco, who has a history of pushing his countryman to the limit. Should he reach the quarter-finals, Nadal is projected to meet Dominic Thiem in what would be a reprise of their epic US Open quarter-final last month, which Nadal won in a fifth-set tie-break.
Djokovic, who opens against the winner of a qualifier and his Roland Garros conqueror Marco Cecchinato, is seeded to meet fast-rising World No. 16 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the third round. The Serb was one of four Top 10 victims the #NextGenATP Greek claimed en route to the final of the Rogers Cup in August. Tsitsipas won his first ATP World Tour title last week in Stockholm and is alive in this week’s Basel quarter-finals. In the quarter-finals, four-time tournament champion Djokovic is seeded to meet Marin Cilic, who is chasing one of the three remaining spots at the Nitto ATP Finals.
In Djokovic’s bottom half of the draw, third seed and 2011 champion Federer is looking at a challenging opening-round match against the winner of Milos Raonic and 2008 champion Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Should he reach the quarters, Federer would face Kevin Anderson or Kei Nishikori, both of whom are chasing London berths.
Another London hopeful and former Paris finalist, John Isner, opens against the winner of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Mikhail Kukushkin, with a potential third-round challenge against Karen Khachanov or Filip Krajinovic, who defeated the American in a third-set tie-break in last year’s semi-finals.
Fourth seed Alexander Zverev, already a winner of three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles, opens against a qualifier or #NextGenATP American Frances Tiafoe. He is seeded to meet Isner in the quarter-finals, in what would be a re-match of this year’s Miami final.
Main draw play begins Monday.