Federer willing to concede any chance of regaining top ranking

The adulation Ana Ivanovic earned from her French Open title has deteriorated with her continued slump. Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Can't get excited now that the Grand Slams have gone faster than an Ivo Karlovic rocket down the middle? Come on, there's still much to keep an eye out for this fall. Here are a few, led by an off-the-court matter, namely Roger Federer's whereabouts.

Fed's return?
Federer's decision to bail out of next week's Stockholm Open raised eyebrows, given his explanation.

Pulling from a relatively small event at this time of the campaign isn't uncommon, although the recently anointed five-time U.S. Open champion, who claims he's healthy after an early-season bout with mono, didn't know whether he'd return at all in 2008.

"It's surprising because he's never shown signs of doing it before,'' said ESPN analyst and former world No. 5 Jimmy Arias. "He's been one of the best No. 1s for tennis.''

Federer had only a minuscule chance of regaining the No. 1 ranking from Rafael Nadal and ending the year in the top spot for a fifth straight time, which might have factored into his decision, Arias added. Realistically, Federer needed to win titles in Sweden, Madrid, Basel and Paris -- in consecutive weeks -- and to hope Nadal would falter.

"It sounds to me like he's burned out and he wants a break,'' Arias said. "A break might be five days, and he's ready to go. But obviously, at this point in his career, Masters Series don't make any difference. Even Masters Cup probably doesn't make that much difference. It's more a question of how many Slams and staying or being No. 1 in the world as two goals he would aspire towards.''

Incidentally, the women's race for No. 1, between Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic, is much narrower. Jankovic is trying to become the first woman to end the year at No. 1 without ever winning a major. (She'll regain the top ranking from Williams on Monday.)

How would the ultraoptimistic WTA play that one?

Ivanovic's tribulations
Many males would say they watch the Serb year-round even if they don't particularly like tennis. Sticking to her game, though, Ivanovic seemingly needs to get some W's to restore her confidence.

Who'd have thought she'd enter next week's Tier 1 Kremlin Cup in Moscow with a 5-5 record since her Grand Slam breakthrough at the French Open, when she took advantage of Justine Henin's absence?

Ivanovic struggled with a thumb injury for much of the summer, but she said she's been pain-free since the start of September. Still, she keeps losing.

Her latest defeat came to Chinese battler Zheng Jie in a three-hour slugfest at last week's China Open. (Jie also beat Ivanovic at Wimbledon.) There, Ivanovic was let down by her serve and admittedly was too passive.

"There's still a lot to play for before the season ends,'' Ivanovic told her Web site.

Djokovic's response
A crowd favorite in 2007, Novak Djokovic was public enemy No. 1 at last month's U.S. Open. He drew criticism from Andy Roddick and Tommy Robredo, who felt he feigned injury. (Roddick later suggested he was kidding.) He also was booed by the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium after an ill-advised verbal attack on Roddick in the wake of their rousing quarterfinal. Recall, too, that a few of his mistakes were cheered in the semis against Federer.

In his first tournament since Flushing Meadows, Djokovic reached the final of last week's Thailand Open in Bangkok and endeared himself to the crowd there by performing a traditional Thai greeting.

Tipped by many to finish the year at No. 1 after his maiden Grand Slam crown at the Australian Open, there's little chance of that now. Djokovic's defeat to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the Thailand Open final, a rematch of their Melbourne finale, means he hasn't claimed a title since early May.

He'll be hoping for a better finish this campaign than last, when he lost five in a row, all in straight sets.

"When you think he came and won the Australian Open when I thought he would struggle the first couple of months given how tired he was at the end of last year, I don't think it's too much of a surprise he hasn't been challenging the top two the last three or four months,'' said Barry Cowan, a former pro and now an analyst for Britain's Sky Sports. "My gut feeling is that we'll probably see the best of him come the beginning of next year after he has a bit of a break.''

Davis Cup final
Just imagine Nadal, David Ferrer and David Nalbandian -- who often play video games together -- slugging it out on clay along with Juan Martin Del Potro when Spain visits Argentina in the Davis Cup final. It's safe to say a few of those clashes would linger.

Alas, it's a pointless exercise, because Argentinean officials understandably are choosing a fast indoor court to diminish Nadal's impact.

Both Nadal and Ferrer probably will compete half a world away the week before at the Masters Cup, which also should benefit the Argentinean hosts, who are looking for their first Davis Cup title. Del Potro, a winner in 25 of his past 26 matches heading into this week's Japan Open and the hero in Argentina's semifinal victory over Russia, might also be there.

"Right now, I would have to go with Argentina as the favorite,'' Cowan said.

It would be silly to suggest Del Potro wouldn't do his darnedest to qualify for Shanghai, although you could envision he'd turn down a chance to be an alternate.

Nalbandian's descent
"For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,'' was how Sir Isaac Newton put it, or something similar.

Was he talking about Nalbandian?

Nalbandian's commanding performances in Fall 2007 left many hoping he'd shine in 2008. But that hasn't happened, and those back-to-back victories over Federer and Nadal at the Madrid and Paris Masters essentially meant little. He might point to injuries as an excuse. But how much of his poor performance is because Nalbandian, who says tennis is his job rather than his passion, still isn't in ideal shape?

Largely because he won both titles in 2007, Nalbandian remains in the top 10 at No. 7. His 29-13 record is highly skewed: Subtract the low-profile Latin American swing, and the record falls to 20-12, with his best showing at a major a pair of third-round appearances.

"What's becoming evident is that he finds it very hard to motivate himself week in, week out,'' Cowan said.

Given his form, it's highly unlikely Nalbandian will come close to repeating last year's heroics during the European indoor season. That means he'll make a hefty slide in the rankings. He probably won't push himself, either, thanks to his positive transformation at the Davis Cup.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.