All to play for in Paris

 - Simon Cambers

No 1 ranking and London spots on the line at the Rolex Paris Masters.

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic laughing during Roland-Garros 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

The Rolex Paris Masters begins in Bercy on Sunday with more than 5 million euros available in prize money, not to mention the prestige of joining one of the most impressive honours’ lists of any tournament on the ATP Tour.

From the first staging of the event, in 1986, Bercy has been synonymous with greatness. From Boris Becker to Stefan Edberg, Andre Agassi to Pete Sampras and Roger Federer to Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, the cream invariably rises to the top in the French capital as the season winds to its end.

There is even more excitement this year, though, with the end of year No 1 ranking set to change and two spots in the season-ending ATP Finals up for grabs.

Nadal guaranteed to regain the No 1

Novak Djokovic leads the ATP rankings heading to the Rolex Paris Masters, but his position as season-ending No 1 is perilous, with Rafael Nadal leading the ATP Race (the calendar-year standings).

Djokovic is just 320 points ahead of Nadal in the current rankings, but with the Serb due to drop 600 points on Nov. 4 from last year’s run to the final - and because Djokovic's 1000 points from reaching the London final last year will come off the computer on the same day, the Spaniard is guaranteed to regain the No 1 spot once the tournament is completed.

Added to its great history and famously raucous atmosphere, especially when French players are in action, Bercy’s place in the ATP Tour calendar means it often carries even more importance, especially when spots remain available for the season-ending ATP Finals in London a couple of weeks later.

Novak Djokovic in the tunnel of the Rolex Paris Masters 2018©Nicolas Gouhier/FFT

Still in the hunt for London

This year is no different, with any one of seven or eight players potentially still in the hunt for a place in the London field.

Nadal, Djokovic, Daniil Medvedev, Federer, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas have already secured their ATP Finals spots, while Sascha Zverev and Matteo Berretini occupy places seven and eight.

Good performances in Paris would seal the deal but Roberto Bautista Agut, David Goffin, Fabio Fognini and Gael Monfils are all still in with a chance of making London, which will make things even more exciting, especially if Monfils can follow in the footsteps of some of his countryman who have found their best form on home soil down the years.

Guy Forget, who went on to be the tournament director, won the title in 1991, when he famously took down Pete Sampras in a five-set thriller for the win of his career.

Sebastien Grosjean took the title in 2001 while Jo-Wilfried Tsonga won it in 2008. And Monfils was agonisingly close to taking the crown in 2009, when he was edged out in a final-set tiebreak by Djokovic, and also finished runner-up in 2010.

Monfils will carry most of the hopes of the home crowd who will join him inside the cavernous centre court, which can seat more than 14,000 fans.

Having enjoyed another good year, including his eighth career title, in Rotterdam, Monfils knows that he needs one big push if he is to make it to London, a push that may depend on how his fitness holds up.

And what of Medvedev?

“Very often everything is decided in Paris,” Monfils told reporters recently. “ Last year I had the same schedule and in the end I hurt myself and I did not compete.

“I hope my body will be doing well this time. When I started the year with my new team, one of the goals was to play well in the grand slams, and I did not really manage to achieve it. I expected more."

But Monfils often reserves his best form for indoors, with five of his eight titles coming when there is a roof over his head. Three of his eight titles were won in France and there would surely be no more popular champion should he somehow make it over the line in Bercy this time.

If that’s to happen, though, someone’s going to have to see off the big guns, lead by Djokovic, who has won more titles in l'AccorHotels Arena than anyone, taking the title in 2009, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Daniil Medvedev in the tunnel at the Rolex Paris Masters 2018©Cédric Lecocq/FFT

Federer won the title in 2011 but Nadal, despite having won at Roland Garros a record 12 times, has yet to lift the title in Bercy, the Rolex Paris Masters being one of just two Masters 1000 titles he has yet to win.

And what of Medvedev, the man of the summer?

The Russian’s stunning run of six straight finals, including two Masters 1000 titles and reaching his first grand slam final at the US Open, catapulted him into the world’s top four and who’s to say he won’t win in Paris for the first time, emulating the achievement of his close friend, Karen Khachanov, who upset the odds 12 months ago.