Novak Djokovic admits Andy Murray will deserve to be ranked third in the world if he passes the Serbian.
The British number one has been steadily closing in on his rival after a brilliant start to the year and is now only 170 points behind.
Murray confirmed his status as the form player by beating Djokovic in the final of the Miami Masters 10 days ago – his third successive victory over his fellow 21-year-old – to clinch his third title of the season and the biggest of his career so far.
The Scot has so far failed to match his success on hard courts and grass on clay, failing even to reach the quarter-finals in any event last year.
But that means he has few ranking points to defend while Djokovic reached the semi-finals or better in every tournament, including the French Open, and won the title in Rome.
Ahead of his second-round meeting with Oscar Hernandez at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters, where he beat Murray 6-0 6-4 in the third round last year, Djokovic said: “If it happens, it happens.
“And it’s going to be deserved. He’s been playing great tennis in the last 10 months and I think we’re going to have a lot of great matches.”
The Serbian knows he must at least match his results of last year to have a chance of staying ahead of Murray, but insists he is not feeling the pressure.
“I’m not really thinking about that, I’m thinking about my performance on the court,” he added.
“I’ve been working a lot lately on going more to the net and shortening the points.”
Djokovic looked more likely to be challenging for the top two spots than fighting to hang onto third when he won the Australian Open amid a brilliant start to last year.
But a second-round exit at Wimbledon preceded a disappointing autumn and his Australian Open defence ended when he retired while trailing Andy Roddick in their quarter-final.
However, there have been promising signs since and he insists the best is yet to come.
He said: “I had the best year of my career in 2008 so I do have high ambitions.
“This year didn’t start that well, things weren’t how I expected for the first two months but I won the tournament in Dubai and made the final in Miami so now it’s going more smoothly and better for me. I’ve got a lot of confidence again.
“I’m still young, I’m only 22 this year. My lifetime goal is to be the best in the world.”
For Djokovic and Murray, the main obstacle to success on clay is world number one Rafael Nadal, who is going for his fifth successive title in Monte-Carlo this week.
The Spaniard, who has also never lost a match at Roland Garros, appears more dominant than ever, but Djokovic insists he is beatable.
“Everything is possible, even though he’s started the year in great form,” said the world number three.
“He’s won a grand slam and the Masters in Indian Wells and he absolutely deserves to be the world number one.
“But I don’t think he’s unbeatable, even on this surface. He lost one match last year to Juan Carlos Ferrero but he’s the strongest player on tour and mentally he’s so strong as well.
“On clay, it’s his physical condition, preparation and strength that gives him the advantage over other players. My body needs a little more work to get biceps like that!
“Especially on clay you need to be really fit and I just came back from the States last week so, with the change in time zone and everything, I haven’t had much time to train but I’m confident I’ll be okay.”