After a 3-4 week post-US Open lull in the schedule, the top players are set to return for the final stretch of the ATP circuit. And for the first time in many years, even with Rafael Nadal likely done for the year, we still have a true 3-way race for No. 1 this fall with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all slugging it out for that coveted top ranking at the end of the year.

Federer leads on the 52-week ranks but Djokovic is the front runner in terms of the key 2012 rankings points, about 1,000 ahead of Federer and his lead is just above 3,000 over Murray.

But with 1,500 points avail at the London Finals, 1,000 each at Shanghai and Paris, Djokovic’s lead isn’t safe by any means. We know how well Federer plays indoors and if Murray can stay hot and win Shanghai, anything could happen as we near the end.

So as a guide, here’s where the boys will be playing this fall. Subject to change of course.

Federer (4): Oct 8 – Shanghai, Oct 22 – Basel, Oct 29 – Paris, Nov 5 – London

Djokovic (4): Oct 1 – Beijing, Oct 8 – Shanghai, Oct 29 – Paris, Nov 5 – London

Murray (5): Oct 1 – Tokyo, Oct 8 – Shanghai, Oct 22 – Basel, Oct 29 – Paris, Nov 5 – London

By week:

Oct 1 (Beijing, Tokyo)

Djokovic (Beijing)

Murray (Tokyo)

Oct 8 (Shanghai)

Federer/Djokovic/Murray (Shanghai)

Oct 15 (Stockholm, Moscow, Vienna)

Off

Oct 22 (Basel, Valencia)

Federer (Basel)

Murray (Basel)

Oct 29 (Paris)

Federer/Djokovic/Murray (Paris)

Nov 5 (London)

Federer/Djokovic/Murray (London Finals)

Looking at the above schedule, it’s a little surprising to see that there are just TEN events left to start on the 2012 ATP calender. Just 10.

Specifically, what will be interesting is if Federer makes the long trip to China to just play the one event in Shanghai. Rivals Murray and Djokovic both have multiple events to play in that region (and some guys in action this week are playing all three), while Federer has just the one, so there is some doubt that Roger will make the journey – remember he didn’t play last year.

If Roger passes up Shanghai he’ll be at risk to dropping further behind Djokovic in 2012 points. Novak and Murray could each collect as many as 1,500 points by winning both their Asian swing stops, assuming the two do play (Djokovic did not play last year so I think he will make trip, while Murray could be fatigued following his big summer run). And if Novak does sweep in Asia, his 2012 ranking lead will balloon to about 2,500 over Federer realistically making it awfully tough for Roger to pass the Serb.

Hopefully Roger does play or Novak doesn’t win both Asian events and for once we’ll have an exciting race to the finish.

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