Roger Federer will begin his bid to regain the world number one position from Rafael Nadal when the 2009 men's tennis circuit starts with Qatar Open on Monday. The opening week of the ATP World Tour could see the two great rivals meet for the first time since their sensational Wimbledon final six months ago.
An ATP poll of 65,000 people recently showed that 44 percent believe Federer will regain the top spot he held for a record 237 weeks, and the Doha event could indicate whether they are right.
Against that, 34 percent thought Nadal would go on to become the first left-hander to finish world number one in back-to-back years since John McEnroe in 1981-84. Last year the muscular Spaniard won the most titles (eight) and the most matches (82).
And Nadal is still only 22. This suggests he may not yet have reached his peak and should have more years left at the highest level than his 27-year-old rival.
"I believe he could stay number one easily for two or three more years," Nadal's agent, Carlos Costa, said. "He will have a hard battle this year, but he is the best player right now."
Costa therefore reckons Federer will not regain the pinnacle. Only one man previously — Ivan Lendl 20 years ago — has won the world number one ranking back.
Some people paint an even gloomier future for Federer, believing the loss of two Grand Slam titles in 2008, plus the failure to win any Masters Series, and a defeat at the Olympics indicate psychological and physical decline.
Nadal is not one of those. "Federer is Federer, and when people said he is finished, I've always denied it," he said.
Doha seeds: 1. Nadal; 2. Federer; 3. Murray; 4. Roddick; 5. Andreev; 6. Tursunov; 7. Kohlschreiber; 8. Youzhny.