Commentary

Some still jockeying for position to qualify for the year-end championships

The ATP and WTA championships will harness the top eight players in each field, respectively, for an opportunity to conquer the lucrative year-end events. While some can rest comfortably in their success, others are ardently making a last-ditch effort to qualify.

Originally Published: June 4, 2008
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

We're just a month away from the year-end championships in the ATP and WTA tours, respectively. The top eight in each field will qualify.

While Rafael Nadal has virtually locked up the No. 1 spot, there are a slew of players chasing James Blake for the final position in the chase. The eight players will compete in a round-robin tournament in Shanghai beginning Nov. 10.

Jelena Jankovic, who holds a scant 113-point lead on Serena Williams in the women's rankings, has some separation in the Race to the Sony Ericsson Championships. Similar to the ATP, there are a handful of players just outside the top eight vying to get in. Play begins on Nov. 3 in Doha, Qatar.

Here is how all the current contenders stack up.

Masters Cup
1. Rafael Nadal

Ah, the sweet smell of success.

Nadal recently signed an endorsement deal with Inter Parfums, Inc., becoming a global ambassador for its Lanvin line of fragrances. The Spaniard has plenty of time to think about possible scents, given he won't return to action until next week's Madrid Masters.

2. Roger Federer

Any realistic chance Federer had of supplanting Nadal for the No. 1 spot evaporated Wednesday, when the Swiss pulled out of this week's Stockholm Open and admitted he didn't know if he'd be back at all in 2008. At least fans in Sweden get to see heartthrob Joachim Johansson's comeback.

3. Novak Djokovic

Though he, too, was off last week, Djokovic was already looking ahead to the Masters Cup, where he exited with barely a whimper in his debut in 2007. "I was a little disappointed last year in Shanghai," Djokovic said on his Web site. "I'm in better form now, matured as a player, though I'm still aware I haven't reached my peak."

4. Andy Murray

Murray just might have the most detailed Web site of any player out there. Perusing the site (www.andymurray.com) last week, you'd know more than you needed about Murray and his entourage's exploits in five-a-side soccer, a plethora of pics in tow. Just imagine the coverage when he's in China.

5. Nikolay Davydenko

Begrudgingly cleared by the ATP on a much-publicized alleged match-fixing scandal, maybe the Russian can get his career back on track, starting at this week's Kremlin Cup. Davydenko has reached the quarterfinals only twice in his past 10 tournaments, winning tiny clay-court events in Poland and Austria.

6. Andy Roddick

Roddick enjoyed a fruitful stint in Asia, winning the China Open and reaching the semifinals at the Japan Open, where he uncharacteristically failed to serve out the match against enigmatic Czech Tomas Berdych. His lasting contribution was donating $25,000 to victims of May's devastating earthquake in China, which killed nearly 70,000 people.

7. David Ferrer

"I don't really care about Shanghai," Ferrer, last year's surprising Masters Cup finalist, said upon losing in the quarterfinals at the Japan Open as the defending champion. "It will be hard for me to get there now." He's right, especially since he has failed to reach a semifinal on hard courts all season.

8. James Blake

Out of action and burned out since losing to good pal Mardy Fish early at the U.S. Open, Blake has nevertheless been busy. He was a groomsman at Fish's wedding in Beverly Hills on Sept. 28 and attended the Bryan brothers' charity gig a day earlier. Bailing on Vienna this week, Blake is due to compete three straight weeks, starting with the Madrid Masters. He'll need to do well to fend off the chasing pack.

Sony Ericsson Championships
1. Jelena Jankovic

Jankovic won herself a Porsche yesterday by claiming the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Germany, and her drive to the year-end No. 1 ranking is picking up speed: She won titles in back-to-back weeks for the first time in her career. "I've been playing very well since the U.S. Open and my confidence is quite high," the bubbly Serb said.

2. Serena Williams

Williams relinquished the top spot to Jankovic and pulled out of this week's Tier I Kremlin Cup in Moscow (where she reached the final last year) due to an ankle injury. "I guarantee I will get it back," she said. That might be harder than expected, given Jankovic's form and the fact that Williams is only scheduled to compete at one more tournament: the year-end championships.

3. Dinara Safina

Safina wanted that Porsche, and was set to dish it out as a present to the coach who transformed her career, Zeljko Krajan. The goodwill gesture wasn't to be, however, as Safina was upended comfortably by Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Still, delete the Williams sisters, and Safina has lost one match since July.

4. Elena Dementieva

Dementieva was an earlier-than-expected loser in Stuttgart, too, falling in the last eight to former world junior champion Victoria Azarenka. An Olympic gold medalist, Dementieva will have the crowd behind her as she defends her Kremlin Cup crown.

5. Ana Ivanovic

Ivanovic is struggling, heading into the Kremlin Cup with a less-than-stellar 5-5 record since winning the French Open in June. Trying to find her game, she's also playing doubles in Moscow with Italian Francesca Schiavone. "Playing doubles will help me adapt to the conditions," said Ivanovic, whose last doubles tilt in a tournament came at Wimbledon in 2007. "It will also give me some more match play."

6. Maria Sharapova

Hampered by a right shoulder injury at the end of 2007, Sharapova still played in the year-end championships and surprisingly reached the final, losing to Justine Henin in one of the best matches of the season.

Unfortunately for the Russian, the shoulder malaise won't go away, and she's out for the remainder of 2008.

7. Svetlana Kuznetsova

Kuznetsova is showing signs of life since cutting ties with her longtime coach, Stefan Ortega, making back-to-back finals in China and Japan. (Losing both, she's now 1-10 in her past 11.) Perhaps departing in the first round in Germany was to be expected -- Kuznetsova was in action for a fourth straight week.

8. Venus Williams

Hard to believe, but Williams hasn't played at the year-end championships since 2002; illness forced out the reigning Wimbledon champion last year. Sharapova's injury means Williams has a slight cushion, though Vera Zvonareva and Agnieszka Radwanska aren't far behind.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.