Ask Roger Federer at the beginning of each year what his main priorities are and the chances are that he will say the same thing each time; to win Wimbledon and be No 1. Few players have embraced and actively enjoyed being top of the tree as much as Federer and his decision to enter the Shanghai Masters should be seen as his own mini-statement; he wants to remain No 1 at the end of the year.
Of course, the fact that Rolex – one of Federer’s key sponsors – is the sponsor of the Shanghai event may have played some role in his decision, but when it comes down to it, Federer makes his own choices according to what he feels is best for him. By playing in Shanghai he increases his chances of staying on top.
Though Andy Murray could mathematically hit No 1 this year, he would have to win everything in sight and hope that Federer and Novak Djokovic fail to pick up points at the same time. Instead, it’s likely to come down to a straight fight between the current top two and it promises to go all the way.
Going into this week, Federer had a healthy 1335-point lead over Djokovic at the top but the Serb has very few points (just 380) to defend from this time last year, when he faded badly. By contrast, Federer won Basle, Paris and every match at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which is a total of 3000 points.
In the calendar points race to this point – which should make the situation clearer – Djokovic has a 990-point lead over Federer at the top, so is obviously in pole position to stay there. Should the Serb do well in Beijing this week, and there is no reason to think he will not, then he will have a more than healthy cushion over the Swiss going into Shanghai next week.
As he has proved in recent years, Federer is still the best indoor player when the big events come round and it’s entirely possible he could go on another tear and end the year on top. But to do so, with Djokovic gaining points on 2011 every week, the chances are he would have to repeat his heroics of last year and win Shanghai. It’s asking a lot but it shows Federer’s mindset that he is willing to give it a go.
The Australian Open announced on Tuesday that it is to raise its prize money by AUD$4 million this coming January, making the overall purse AUD$30 million. That works out at about £19 million, three million more than Wimbledon and is further evidence that the players are being listened to when they say they want a greater share of the overall pie.
Tournament directors are to discuss the exact breakdown of the round-by-round prize money over the next few weeks and that should see more cash going to the first few rounds of each tournament, as happened at the other three grand slam events this year.
But the Australian Open and Tennis Australia, are reluctant to just throw cash at the problem. They have structured ideas for where tennis should be moving, including better pensions, rather than just raising prize money for the sake of it. Let’s also hope that they raise the money in qualifying, too, because for many players, the expense of making it to Australia in the first place is often so much that they end up losing money if they don’t make it through a round at the grand slam.