Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The all-important race to finish as year- end No. 1 appears to be a two-man affair heading down the stretch.
Five-time year-end ace Roger Federer and last year's No. 1 Novak Djokovic will determine this year's top dog over the next month-and-a-half.
The Fed currently leads the rankings with a slim 835-point lead over the Djoker, with both men lacing them up at the Shanghai Masters this week, along with world No. 3 power and two-time defending champion Andy Murray.
Federer simply continues to amaze, even at the age of 31. The supreme Swiss has piled up no less than six titles this year, including a seventh Wimbledon championship back in July. He's also crossed the finish line first at a trio of Masters events -- Indian Wells, Madrid and Cincinnati -- and was a silver medalist at the Olympic tennis tournament, which was staged at "his house," better known as the All England Club.
The Swiss hero would appear to have the inside track to another year-end No. 1, but Djokovic will also have a say in the matter.
Federer is typically no stranger to skipping Shanghai, which means his entry this week clearly indicates a strong desire to finish 2012 at No. 1. He needs to defend a ton of points (3,000 of 'em) from his undefeated run on the circuit last fall, when he ruled in his native Basel, Paris and the Tour Finals.
If Federer fails to reach the quarters this week and Djokovic titles in Shanghai, the Serb would overtake the Swiss at the top.
Djokovic, who landed in the year-end No. 1 spot last year after capturing three of the four major championships, has had another brilliant year... just not one as good as last year.
The Belgrade native won the Australian Open for a third time in January; reached his first-ever French Open final in June; secured a bronze medal at the London Olympic Games in August; and was the U.S. Open runner-up to Murray last month.
The 25-year-old has also tallied titles at Masters events in Miami and Toronto and was last week's big winner in Beijing (where he's now won three of the last four titles). He's also been a five-time runner-up in 2012, including Masters tourneys in Monte-Carlo, Rome and Cincinnati in addition to his second-place finishes at the U.S. and French Opens.
Murray was still in contention for the year-end top spot before his campaign took a major hit last week when he was upset by rising Canadian Milos Raonic in a semifinal in Tokyo, where Japan's own Kei Nishikori was the stunning eventual champ.
The 25-year-old Murray is currently 3,715 points off Federer's pace and 2,880 points behind Djokovic. In addition to his huge U.S. Open and Olympic titles, the British star was a runner-up to Federer at Wimbledon and to Djokovic at the prestigious Miami event.
Not in the equation this time around is two-time year-end No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who has been sidelined since late June because of a knee injury that will probably keep him out of action until late December, or well after the 2012 ATP World Tour season has concluded.
Part of the incredible "trivalry" that includes the 17-time Grand Slam champion Federer and five-time major titlist Djokovic, the 26-year-old seven- time French Open champion and 2012 Aussie Open runner-up Nadal currently rests at No. 4 and will now finish a year outside the top two for the first time since 2004. Seven straight years inside the top two!? That's astonishing. The 11-time Grand Slam champ was No. 2 behind Djokovic last year and has finished second behind Federer on four occasions.
It's hard to say who's gonna come out on top when all the smoke clears next month, but we can probably expect a surge from Federer when he hits some of those indoor events in Europe.