INDIAN WELLS, CALIFORNIA // In-form Novak Djokovic, who has won two titles this year including the Australian Open and the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, could replace Roger Federer as world No 2 after the Indian Wells tournament starting this week.
The third-ranked Serb is scheduled to meet Federer in the semi-finals at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden and would surpass the Swiss in the global rankings should he win that encounter.
For Djokovic, though, the rankings will take care of themselves. He is much more concerned with staying fit and maintaining his superb early-season form.
"I want to take one tournament at a time," the 23-year-old said in the build-up to the first Masters Series event of the year. "I've been talking about my goals too many times in the past years and right now I just want to be playing consistently well.
"I want to keep up the good form that I have, stay fit and just take care of my health and my physical condition.
"I've done it really well in the last two months ... I know that if I feel and play this way, I have a good chance to stay in the top three," added the Serb, who reached a career-high second in the rankings in February last year.
Djokovic has been the dominant figure in the men's game this year, crushing Andy Murray 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 to claim his second Australian Open title in late January and then outplaying Federer 6-3, 6-3 to win last month's Dubai Tennis Championships.
Helped by a much improved serve, the Serb has signalled he is a genuine third force at the top of men's tennis — along with Federer and world No 1 Rafael Nadal.
Federer, however, believes that the fourth-ranked Swede Robin Soderling and Britain's Murray (fifth) are also significant factors at the game's summit.
"The top-five players have played really well the last six months," Federer, a three-time champion at Indian Wells, said after losing the Dubai Championships final to Djokovic.
"Someone always has to win one tournament. At the end of the day, we've been able to share those a little bit to be honest. So I don't feel it's a three-horse race right now.
"Rafa still is the favourite. He's won three of the four slams. Novak has not lost a match yet this season, but the season is still really short. I've been playing well. Murray has been playing well. Soderling hasn't been playing bad."
Soderling has won three ATP tournaments this season, more than anyone else, and is seeded to meet Nadal in the semi-finals at Indian Wells.
Nadal will be bidding for a third title at the imposing, state-of-the-art Indian Wells venue, having previously triumphed here in 2007 and 2009.
Among the leading contenders in the women's competition, starting on Wednesday, are holder Jelena Jankovic of Serbia, Denmark's world No 1 Caroline Wozniacki and second-ranked Belgian Kim Clijsters.