Tennis

Djokovic eyes No. 1 at Paris Masters

Incumbent Nadal has not played since retiring from his US Open semi-final

Novak Djokovic can complete a stunning return to tennis' world No. 1 at the Paris Masters this week as Rafael Nadal hits the comeback trail for the first time since limping out of the US Open.

Roger Federer could also resurface in the French capital after a three-year absence, although the 20-time Grand Slam champion said a decision on his participation will be made today.

The Swiss star won his 99th career title in Basel over the weekend, but hasn't played in Paris since 2015 due to a combination of injury and selective scheduling.

Djokovic also missed last year's event as he dropped outside the top 10 for the first time in over a decade but the Serb, who was lingering at a ranking of 22nd as recently as June, arrives having won 27 of his last 28 matches.

"In both the US Open and Shanghai Masters, I've played as good as ever," said Djokovic, who claimed his 14th Major championship in New York.

"So I really enjoy tennis at the moment and enjoy competing, because obviously when you're winning that many matches you have a lot of confidence."

However, it was just months ago that doubts were raised over his future following a dramatic decline as he battled to recover from a nagging elbow injury.

Djokovic, 31, underwent surgery after a fourth-round loss at this year's Australian Open but, admittedly, rushed his return and suffered a series of early exits that knocked his confidence.

But he outlasted Nadal in an epic Wimbledon semi-final before swatting Kevin Anderson to claim his first Grand Slam since the 2016 French Open.

He then completed a sweep of Masters victories by downing Federer to claim an elusive Cincinnati title.

"We are very, very pleased with what was achieved in the last four, five months," said Djokovic. "And with Rafa's injury and him not playing China and so forth, it put me in a position to be very close to him in rankings and to fight for a year-end No. 1.

"So of course right now I'm aware of it and I'm going to give my very best to try to achieve it.

"I do think that I'm playing at my best at the moment and I always feel like I can improve, but I feel like this is a very high level."

Incumbent world No. 1 Nadal has not played since a knee injury led to him retiring from his US Open semi-final against Juan Martin del Potro.

The Spaniard, for all his success at Roland Garros, has never lifted the Paris Masters trophy - his best showing came when he lost the 2007 final to David Nalbandian.

Nadal withdrew before his quarter-final last year, and he must match Djokovic's performance to retain top spot going into the season-ending Tour Finals in London.

"I stop for a while after the US Open so then I started to practise slow step by step. And that's it. Here I am. Happy to be here," said Nadal.

"...I am just thinking about small improvements, and that's the goal."

Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem are in position to claim the remaining two London berths, with Kei Nishikori and John Isner still with an outside chance of qualifying. - AFP

Tennis