In a word, yes. In more than one word, probably not.
There are legitimate scenarios in which Rafael Nadal could finish 2011 where he begain it, as the No. 1 player in the world. The more likely outcome is that Novak Djokovic will maintain his top spot in the rankings through the end of the season.
Busted Racquet crunched the numbers and examined the hard road Nadal will have back to the top spot in 2010.
The specifics: Djokovic currently has a 1,885-point lead over Nadal in the ATP rankings. In the year-to-date standings (which are more important in projecting the year-end standings), the Serb maintains an edge of 2,060 points. Making up that ground won't be impossible. Djokovic, after all, got that lead in six months and could give it up in six months too. With three of the four Grand Slams complete, it's a harder climb.
Here are the points Djokovic and Nadal will be defending through the rest of the season:
If that exact scenario plays out again, Nadal will finish the year more than 1,000 points behind Djokovic. (There are some points at risk and up for grabs in Davis Cup that we're ignoring for this exercise.) Even in winning the US Open and finishing ahead of Djokovic at the World Tour Finals, Nadal only earned 320 more points than his rival in the second half of last year. He'd have to be seven times better than that to pass him in 2011.
Scenarios for Nadal to hit No. 1: The clearest road to No. 1 is Nadal winning both the US Open and World Tour Finals and not having to defeat Djokovic in the finals of either event. Wins at those two events would give Nadal 3,500 points. Let's say Djokovic loses in the semis of both tournament and earns 1,120 points. Rafa gets the 2,000 points with room to spare. If Nadal were to beat Djokovic in the finals of both, the edge is only 1,300 points.
A strong run in the United States could also propel Nadal to No. 1. If he were to pull a Djokovic and rattle off some consecutive wins in 1,000 events, Nadal could close the gap before the fall season and get ahead before the year wrap-up in London. Rafa hasn't traditionally performed well in US Open Series events but, then again, Djokovic hadn't been great on clay prior to this year. Anything can happen.
Let's say Rafa makes the finals of Canada and wins Cincinnati, while Djokovic repeats his semifinals/quarterfinals appearance. That's a 1,600 to 540 edge and half of the total right there.
Scenarios for Djokovic to stay No. 1: All of these pro-Rafa situations have one thing in common: Djokovic's game slipping for the rest of the year. Nole need only continue playing good tennis to maintain the top spot. His game could slip considerably from his 48-1 start and he'd be fine. Nadal, on the other hand, needs to play great tennis and hope Djokovic falls off. That's a lot to ask.