Rafa poised to supplant Roger?

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Roger Federer has enjoyed the longest-ever reign at the top of the men's tennis rankings, but that streak could come to an end, possibly as soon as this week, if things break right for world No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

The scorching Nadal has won his last five tournaments, including a torrid 29- match winning streak, and is now within 300 points (6,605-6,305) of the mighty Federer in the rankings. Nadal would become the new No. 1 if he can title in Cincinnati this week and Federer loses before the semifinals.

Federer has sat atop the rankings for a record 234 consecutive weeks (since February 2004) while Nadal holds a record of his own with a 157-week stay at numero dos.

"Every player wants to be No. 1, no? I would love to be No. 1, but I am No. 2 right now," Nadal said. "I'm very happy [to] be No. 2. Because with my titles, with my points, in a normal situation I...would have been No. 1 before. So I think I have to be happy, very happy anyway if I am No. 1 or No. 2. Because if I am No. 2 it's because in front of me there is amazing player like Roger (Federer)."

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Rafael Nadal could replace Roger Federer atop the world rankings this week.
Federer, who is 0-for-3 in terms of capturing a Grand Slam title this year, is fresh off a stunning second-round loss at the hands of decent Frenchman Gilles Simon in Toronto last week, while Nadal went on to capture the title at the Rogers Cup, including an easy victory over quality German Nicolas Kiefer in the final.

The big win gave the 22-year-old Rafa his 12th career Masters Series shield and 30th overall career title. He also became the third-youngest player to reach the 30-title plateau (behind only Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors), and is a brilliant 30-8 in his career finals, with four of the losses coming against the Fed.

The strapping Spaniard is a stellar 61-7 for the year (at the time of this column), including a tour-best seven titles among his tour-best win total. Two of his '08 championships, of course, came at Slams, as he became the first man since Borg 28 years ago to capture the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year. Rafa routed Roger in the French Open finale to claim his fourth straight championship at Roland Garros, then outlasted the super Swiss in an incredible five-set title bout at the All England Club. Federer had been the reigning five-time champ on the hallowed lawns, including a 40-match winning streak and back-to-back victories over Nadal in the 2006 and 2007 finals. The athletic Swiss fell one victory short of tying Borg's record Wimbledon winning streak.

And, that Federer-Nadal Wimbledon final from four weeks ago was probably the greatest tennis match of all-time. I would certainly say it was the most compelling match that I've ever seen (since I started watching the sport back in the early-to-mid 1970s).

FYI, Nadal has already piled up just under $6 million in prize money this year, leaving him just under the $20-million mark for his career.

Not too shabby.

Back to Federer.

Roger Federer has been world No. 1 since February 2004.
Roger is a 12-time major titlist and has been accustomed to winning two or three Grand Slam titles a year since '04, but that trend came to an end this year, as the best the Swiss can do in '08 is one major title, and that would have to come at the U.S. Open, where he is the four-time reigning champ.

Federer posted the best four-year run in the history of men's tennis over the previous four years, but it's starting to appear as though he'll have to move over for Nadal, and perhaps even Novak Djokovic, who shocked the Swiss in this year's Aussie Open semifinals en route to his first-ever major title, and lost to Federer in last year's U.S. Open final.

I'm not saying that Federer's no longer great (far from it), it just looks like Nadal has officially made his move and is now the man to beat.

By the way, Roger still needs two Grand Slam titles to equal the record set by the great Pete Sampras (14).

And in the battle for No. 1, if there's no change at the top of rankings in Cincy this week, a change could come in mid-August due to a calendar shift this season to accommodate the Olympic Games.

Last year, the Masters Series events in Canada and Cincinnati were played two weeks later in the season than they are being played this year. Since points earned by players count towards their rankings for 52 weeks, the 850 points Federer earned last year by reaching the Canadian final and capturing the Cincy title will continue to count towards his ranking during the same Masters Series tournaments this year.

Come August 18, however, those 850 points will no longer count towards Federer's ranking, while, in contrast, Nadal will drop 230 points (225 points for reaching the Rogers Cup semis last year and five points for losing his first match in Cincinnati in '07).

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Nadal may or may not dethrone Federer this week...but it's only a matter of time before Spain has another king.

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Scott Riley
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