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Breaking down one man's top eight

The undisputed winner of the Asian swing was Novak Djokovic, who conquered Beijing and Shanghai. Now it's time for Djokovic, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and the rest of the field to make the final push as part of the European indoor circuit.

Here's an assessment of the top eight with the World Tour Finals looming:

1. Roger Federer

Win a Grand Slam. Reclaim the No. 1 ranking. Finish the season at No. 1.

Heading into 2012, Federer likely would have been happy enough being guaranteed a major. The Swiss indeed ended his two-year drought, and even better for him, he replaced Djokovic at the top position.

But after losing to Murray in the semifinals in Shanghai, Federer made it clear he wasn't about to torment his body in an effort to conclude the campaign at No. 1.

It makes perfect sense.

In September, Federer spoke of how "wounded" he felt, so going all-out now could lead to a knock-on effect and disrupt his preparation for the Australian Open. He is scheduled to play three straight weeks -- in Basel, Paris and London -- but don't be surprised if Federer gives the City of Light a miss, especially if he lands in the final in Basel. No gap between Paris and the year-end championships was always bound to be problematic.

Federer will relish a return to the indoor circuit. He hasn't lost indoors in an ATP event since the end of 2010.

2. Novak Djokovic

He reached three Grand Slam finals, but make no mistake: This has been a mixed season for Djokovic. After going 3-for-3 last year, he slipped to 1-for-3 in 2012. Further, entering Shanghai, he had lost two in a row to Murray, two in a row to Federer and three straight to Rafael Nadal.

It's little wonder, then, that Djokovic put extra gusto into his celebration after beating Murray on Sunday. Saving five match points, of course, made the victory much more special.

Since he has a mere 560 points to defend -- compared to Federer's imposing 3,000 -- Djokovic is a near certainty to finish 2012 at No. 1.

This fall will be more productive than the last.

3. Andy Murray

Post-U.S. Open, we like what we're seeing from Murray. No letdown. His dismantling of a racket Sunday proved how desperate he was to make it a hat trick in Shanghai.

Give or take a shot or two, and Murray probably leaves Tokyo and Shanghai as the winner instead of losing to, respectively, Milos Raonic in the semifinals and Djokovic. (More importantly, Murray toppled both at Flushing Meadows.)

Like Federer, Murray should be prudent with his schedule; he's also due to compete in Basel, Paris and London.

What an ending to the season it would be for Murray if he adds to his Olympic gold and Grand Slam title with a triumph at home (sort of).

4. Rafael Nadal

In early October, Nadal's longtime coach, Toni Nadal, suggested his nephew might be ready for the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup final in the Czech Republic. But the player himself, dealing with those troublesome knees, sounded less sure.

"Impossible, no, but difficult, yes," the world No. 4 said last week when asked whether a comeback was in the cards this season.

Rafa shouldn't push it -- and he probably won't. Both events are on hard courts, the surface that gives his much-discussed joints the most trouble.

If the 11-time Grand Slam champion skips the World Tennis Championship in the Middle East at the end of December, an appearance at the Australian Open would seem unlikely.

5. David Ferrer

Ferrer needed a breather.

While he wouldn't have wanted to retire in Beijing and withdraw from Shanghai because of illness, time away from the courts is bound to do him serious good. Ferrer has played more tournaments than anyone else in the top five in 2012, having already clocked 76 matches.

Ferrer, you would imagine, will be ready and pumped (more than usual) for his hometown stop in Valencia next week. It begins another busy stretch for the 30-year-old, who then has Paris, the World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup final. In Nadal's anticipated absence, Ferrer will be Spain's No. 1 against the Czechs.

6. Tomas Berdych

How vital was it for the tall, athletic Berdych to progress to the semifinals in New York? If Nadal doesn't feature in London, only inspired play from Nicolas Almagro and a Berdych slump would see him miss the year-end championships now.

But since Berdych has let it be known how much he enjoys the Davis Cup, helping the Czech Republic win a first title since 1980 (when it was Czechoslovakia) must be the main priority. Without Nadal, the two-man show of Berdych and Radek Stepanek -- showing he can still play as he approaches 34 -- will fancy their chances.

7. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga

Jo, meet Larry.

Tsonga is without a coach; Larry Stefanki, who has worked with John McEnroe, Marcelo Rios and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, to name a few, says he would be willing to return to the men's tour if the circumstances were right.

Stefanki habitually gets the best out of players, and if he were to partner with the Frenchman, no doubt he'd tell Tsonga to stop experimenting with his backhand. As fun as it is to watch, shifting between one-handers and two-handers is no recipe for success.

Watch this space.

Only Federer deprived Tsonga of doing the Paris and London double in 2011. Odds are that Tsonga, eighth in the race to London, will reappear in the English capital next month.

8. Juan Martin del Potro

Nadal's injury means Janko Tipsarevic, realistically, holds down the eighth and final spot. He's officially ninth.

But what of del Potro's health? The "Tower of Tandil," seventh in the race ahead of Tsonga, couldn't complete Argentina's Davis Cup semifinal against the Czechs at home because of a lingering problem with his left wrist. The wrist will be put to the test, as del Potro entered Vienna this week, followed by Basel and Paris.

If, as expected, he qualifies for London, that's four straight weeks. Somewhere along the way, del Potro could choose to sit one out.