ATP 50: Sampras' Six-Year Reign

  • Posted: Sep 15, 2022

ATP 50: Sampras’ Six-Year Reign

17 players have ended the season as the year-end No. 1

In 1973, Ilie Nastase became the first player to finish the season as the year-end No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. Since then, a further 16 players have ended the year at the top of tennis’ mountain.

Novak Djokovic holds the ATP record of seven year-end No. 1 finishes, while 19-year-old Carlos Alcaraz will be aiming to become the youngest player in history to finish the season in top spot after soaring to No. 1 following his recent US Open title run. However, one record looks set to remain for years to come…

As part of ATP’s anniversary celebrations, has identified 50 game-changing moments of the past 50 years and collated them in an immersive feature. Here we look at how Pete Sampras stayed at the top of the sport throughout the 1990s.

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As Sampras secured his place among the sport’s kings in the 1990s, one record kept the American hungry: Jimmy Connors’ five straight year-end No. 1 finishes between 1974 and 1978.

Sampras, who was seriously challenged for the top spot in 1998, added six tournaments — Basel, Vienna, Lyon, Stuttgart, Paris and Stockholm — to his schedule between the US Open and ATP Tour World Championships [now named Nitto ATP Finals] in a bid to finish year-end No. 1 for the sixth straight season. Marcelo Rios, his nearest challenger, who’d spent six weeks at the summit earlier in the year, did likewise, travelling from Munich, Singapore and Santiago, before flying back to Europe in search of rankings points.

Come the season finale in Hanover, Rios’ chances were scuppered by a back injury and on 26 November 1998, Sampras found out that he’d secured year-end No. 1 for the sixth straight year while eating pasta back at the hotel. Mark Miles, ATP Executive Chairman and President, and Larry Scott, Chief Operating Officer of the ATP Tour, were on hand to tell Sampras the news. When asked about the pressure, Sampras explained, “I don’t look at it as a burden. I look at it as an ultimate achievement. This is a record that I feel will probably never be broken ever, and I knew that.”

Over the past 24 years, Sampras has seen his record of 14 major singles crowns surpassed by Rafael Nadal (22), Novak Djokovic (21) and Roger Federer (20). Come November 2021, Djokovic clinched his seventh finish as year-end No. 1 in the Pepperstone ATP Rankings. But one achievement remains unmatched: For six consecutive years, from 1993-98, Sampras finished the year No. 1. “I think,” Sampras said, starting to laugh, “that’s the only record I’m going to have left.”

From classic matches to legendary players, relive all 50 game-changing moments.

Read more special features in our ATP50 series.

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