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Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Work left for Rafael Nadal and his cohorts


For Rafael Nadal, the next two months should be about one thing -- staying healthy. He's pulled off the French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open treble, triumphing in New York despite indifferent results in Toronto and Cincinnati.

A few other members of the top 10 have a little more reason to put in good performances during the Asian and European indoor swing.

1. Rafael Nadal: We can sugarcoat matters and say Rafa needs to start banging the serve down the middle, but in truth, the only thing he really must do is not get hurt. The fall hard courts haven't always been kind to the world No. 1. He shouldn't overplay with the year-end championships about two months away. And if he happens to stutter in London for the second consecutive year, well, he shouldn't really care.

2. Novak Djokovic: He got closer to his early 2008 form in New York, especially in the semifinals and final. Even if irking a few, he wouldn't harm himself by getting his swagger back. Yes, Djokovic would love to cement his No. 2 ranking. But with Serbia hosting the Davis Cup final for the first time, he won't push too hard at the ATP stops. Priorities.

3. Roger Federer: It's about the majors for Federer. He wants to get to 20. However, it's becoming increasingly important to Federer, you'd think, to start winning a few tournaments outside the big ones. Confidence is a precious commodity. Generally turning more aggressive during the U.S. Open Series, Federer became passive in the later stages against Djokovic in New York, slicing the backhand return, for instance. We like the aggressive Federer.

4. Andy Murray: His up-and-down season continues. He played well at the Australian Open, only to come up just short. A swoon followed. Feeling good at Wimbledon, Nadal took him out in the semis. After winning the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Murray lost in the third round at the U.S. Open. Murray, coach or no coach, will try to keep winning -- and then hope for a grand finale at the year-end championships. He needs momentum big-time heading into 2011.

5. Robin Soderling: Before he was known for being a two-time French Open finalist and the guy who took Rafa out in Paris, Soderling had a reputation for being one of the most dangerous indoor players around. In truth, outside Roland Garros, the Swede has flattered to deceive the past year and a half. Another win over Rafa or Federer would do Soderling good heading into next year.

6. Nikolay Davydenko: Mr. Personality has been Mr. Disappointing in 2010. Now, it's mostly not his fault. Davydenko broke his wrist early and has yet to recover. Davydenko has a ton of points to defend until the end of the season, so he's probably got ample motivation.

7. Tomas Berdych: He wants to back up what he did at the French Open and Wimbledon, when he broke through to reach the semifinals and final, respectively. An indifferent final two months would undo his fine summer. Post-U.S. Open started poorly for Berdych -- he lost both his singles matches in the Davis Cup semis.

8. Fernando Verdasco: The Spaniard, who struggled on grass and prior to the U.S. Open, woke up at Flushing Meadows. His win over the always-tenacious David Ferrer in the fourth round was one of the matches of the tournament. If he reaches the World Tour Finals for a second year in a row, job done. Go for the serve, and don't stand way behind the baseline.

9. Mikhail Youzhny: After resurfacing in the top 10, anything from here on is gravy for Youzhny, one of the most entertaining players on the circuit. A player with his talent wouldn't look out of place at the year-end championships. He is winning more of the big points, although Youzhny still has the tendency to commit unforced errors in bunches.

10. Andy Roddick: He has virtually no points to defend until the end of the year, so if he can approach 100 percent -- after being diagnosed with mono in the summer -- the 28-year-old is almost a lock to appear in London. He was saddened to miss last year's edition, given the fabulous atmosphere at the O2 Arena, and he was missed, too, following that epic Wimbledon final.