Rafael Nadal has admitted that returning to world number one after a gap of just over three years will be 'something special'. The last time the Spaniard was atop the men's singles ranking was on 6 July 2014.

Nadal is guaranteed to be ranked number one at the end of the week after Roger Federer withdrew from the ongoing Western & Southern Open (W&S Open) with a back injury. The race for the top spot was between the two best players of 2017 after current world number one Andy Murray's withdrawal from the recently concluded Rogers Cup and the upcoming event in Cincinnati.

The Spanish tennis star is just 245-points behind Murray after a stellar 2017 campaign and with the latter in line for a 600-point deduction Nadal will take over at the top. The Scot will retain world number two status by just five points from Federer.

Nadal has struggled with multiple injuries in recent seasons and started the current campaign ranked number eight in the world. However, 2017 has seen him recapture some of his best form which has taken him to four titles in seven final appearances including an unprecedented 10th title at Roland Garros.

"Obviously it's bad news for the event that Roger is not playing. For me personally obviously to be back to that position is something special," Nadal said ahead of his first match at the Cincinnati Masters, as quoted on ATP's official site.

"A lot of things have happened since the last time I was in this spot. Injuries and some tough moments, of course, but I have held the passion and the love for the game, and that's why I have the chance to be back in that position again. So I'm just trying to enjoy the moment and just trying to be ready to compete well here. That's the most important thing for me now."

Nadal and Federer have both had successful seasons and look favourite to battle for the year-end world number one ranking once the latter returns to action most likely at the US Open that begins on 28 August. The two players are leading the way in the singles race to London and with Murray struggling for injuries and Novak Djokovic out for the rest of the season; it leaves just the duo to battle it out.

Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal will be crowned the men's singles world number one after the Cincinnati Masters Getty

The 15-time men's singles Grand Slam winner, however, is focused on the short-term rather looking too far ahead and his immediate target is to perform well at the W&S Open, where he faces Richard Gasquet in the second round on Wednesday (16 August).

"I am having a great season," The Spaniard added. "Roger and I are both having a great season. I think both of us are going to have the chance to be in that position until the end of the season. It depends on the results... So let's see. I have an opportunity here to compete well this week and I'm going to try to do it."