It's crunch time in the race to qualify for the season-ending championships, with the men starting their sprint this week and the women closing in on the finish line. There are just two weeks until the WTA TEB BNP Paribas Championships in Istanbul and four weeks until the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London -- and only a few spots still open for these eight-player round-robin events. Here's a look at how the fields are shaping up.
The top six players in the race standings have either already qualified or are likely to, but a tight battle is brewing between Stanislas Wawrinka, Roger Federer and Richard Gasquet for the last two (or possibly three) spots, with Milos Raonic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga chasing behind.
The reason there might be an extra spot up for grabs comes courtesy of Andy Murray, who is already in the field but recently underwent back surgery and will decide this week whether he's fit enough to return in time. If Murray doesn't play, whoever ends up No. 9 also will make it, and any other withdrawals would allow players further down to get in.
Qualified: Year-to-date race points
They are well ahead of everyone else and secured spots early on, although Murray's participation remains in doubt. Nadal has an enormous lead over everyone else, and, unless Djokovic wins just about everything until the end of the year, the Spaniard will stay at No. 1 even if he continues his frequent struggles during this period of the season.
Del Potro and Berdych are in a decent position as long as the four or so contenders behind them don't all combine to produce really good results. It would take a lot for that occur. But the two will still want to post some solid results to give themselves a bit more of a margin. Del Potro, who just won Tokyo, looks as if he is regaining his form.
7. Roger Federer: 3,055
8. Stanislas Wawrinka: 2,970
9. Richard Gasquet: 2,950
So little separates this group that it looks as if it will come down to whoever posts the best results the next few weeks. The goal is to beat out at least one of the other two. The player who finishes third in this pack is likely to end up No. 9, just out of the field unless Murray or someone else withdraws. But, in addition to outdoing each other, they also have to keep an eye on any others coming up from behind.
Gasquet has not made the year-end event since 2007, but he has been posting solid results recently, reaching the semifinals in Beijing. Wawrinka, who is bidding for his first appearance, might still be dealing with a leg injury. And, after a disappointing season by his standards, Federer is a bit of an unknown as he returns to tournament play this week in Shanghai.
Need good results
10. Milos Raonic: 2,680
11. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga: 2,650
Raonic and Tsonga are a little further back, but each is looking dangerous and could get right in the running with a good result such as reaching a Masters final. Raonic is in good form, coming off a title in Bangkok and a final in Tokyo, but might be a bit drained this week as a result. At 22, he has never made the year-end field.
Tsonga only recently returned from injury, but this normally is a good period of the season for him. He usually does well indoors and likes to play in front of his home crowds at Paris.
Both are a long way back from No. 8, but a really big result such as winning a Masters would close the gap.
Very long shots -- Nos. 14-40
With so many big events left, a player could theoretically rack up 2,750 points over the next four weeks, although anyone doing that probably would be left too exhausted for London. Still, it means players even around No. 40 are in with a shot if they can pull a "Nalbandian" -- i.e., replicate recently retired David Nalbandian's legendary run in 2007, when he beat Nadal, Djokovic and Federer back-to-back-to-back to win the indoor Masters event in Madrid, then beat Federer and Nadal again on his way to winning Paris.
There are four weeks of tournaments left to collect points: this week's Shanghai Masters (1,000 points to the winner), then Stockholm, Vienna and Moscow next week (250 points to each winner), Basel and Valencia the week after (500 points to each winner), and finally the Paris Masters (also 1,000 points to the winner). Results from smaller events are eligible only if they are part of a player's 18 countable tournaments.
The main action will be at the two Masters events and in Basel, Switzerland, where Federer, Wawrinka, Gasquet and Raonic are all slated to play. Tsonga will be at the event in Valencia, Spain, that week, potentially a good opportunity to add points.
The race is almost over, but a real fight is taking place over the final spot. No. 8 Jelena Jankovic and No. 9 Angelique Kerber both took wild cards this week in an attempt to get extra points, but Jankovic then pulled out, securing her position for the year-end event when Maria Sharapova withdrew.
That leaves Kerber trying to hold on to the final spot, although Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and Roberta Vinci could get past her by lifting a trophy or two. Any other withdrawals also would open up more positions in the field.
Qualified: Year-to-date race standings
1. Serena Williams: 12,040
2. Victoria Azarenka: 7,676
[3. Maria Sharapova: 5,891 -- injured]
4. Agnieszka Radwanska: 5,890
5. Li Na: 5,120
6. Petra Kvitova: 4,370
7. Sara Errani: 4,190
8. Jelena Jankovic: 3,860
All but one of the spots are set, with Sharapova's withdrawal letting Kvitova, Errani and Jankovic book their spots. Kvitova and Jankovic would have been left hanging a little longer otherwise, although both have been in good form recently and were likely to qualify.
9. Angelique Kerber: 3,505
Kerber is in a strong position with more than a 200-point lead over the next-highest player, and playing this week gives her the opportunity to maintain or stretch that advantage. She managed to enter after the draw had already been made, thanks to Kvitova's withdrawal and the cooperation of a local wild card, who was hastily deprived of her spot to make way for the tournament's new headliner.
Going for ninth
10. Caroline Wozniacki: 3,300
11. Sloane Stephens: 3,185
[12. Marion Bartoli: 3,172 -- retired]
13. Roberta Vinci: 3,170
These three are effectively chasing Kerber for the last spot but need disappointing results from the German to have a shot.
Wozniacki is signed up to play only the small event in Luxembourg next week, so she would need to get at least a title to get past Kerber. Stephens also is playing Luxembourg after Linz this week and probably would need a title and another good result. Vinci is playing the bigger event in Moscow but is so far back that she, too, would need a title.
There are four events left: Osaka and Linz this week (280 points to each winner) and Moscow (470 points to the winner) and Luxembourg (280 points to the winner) next week. Results are eligible only if they are among the player's best 17 countable tournaments.