Novak’s Historic Surge Towards Year-End No. 1
Novak Djokovic’s remarkable late-season surge towards the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking has the potential to rewrite more than 46 years of ATP Rankings history. Should the Serb chase down current World No. 1 Rafael Nadal to finish atop the year-end rankings for a fifth time, Djokovic would set several new rankings marks.
- No. 22 to No. 1: Djokovic fell to a low of No. 22 on 21 May – his lowest ranking since he was No. 22 as a 19-year-old in the week of 2 October 2006. No player has ever clawed back to year-end No. 1 in the same season from that low. The biggest climb to date was undertaken by Andre Agassi in 1999, when he rose from No. 14 on May 3.
- Sluggish Start: Djokovic began 2018 with a 5-5 match record (also 6-6). The worst start a year-end No. 1 had in his first 10 matches of a season was Gustavo Kuerten’s 6-4 mark in 2000.
- Pre-Wimbledon Titles: Djokovic would become the first player to finish a season No. 1 without winning a title before Wimbledon. John McEnroe (1982) won only one title prior to the grass-court major before finishing No. 1.
How bad does Novak want No. 1? “I am really glad that I put myself in a position to compete for No. 1 of the world,” he said this week in Shanghai. “And maybe four, five months ago, that was looking a little bit far from reach, but with the recent results, I put myself in a pretty decent position to fight for No. 1, year-end No. 1.”
Djokovic ended his 2017 season in late July due to an elbow injury. He returned in 2018 to play the Australian Open but soon after underwent right elbow surgery, which kept him sidelined until the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. Looking a shadow of his former self, he lost his opening matches to World No. 109 Taro Daniel and World No. 49 Benoit Paire.
His first significant result was a run to the Rome semi-finals (l. Nadal) and the Roland Garros quarter-finals, although his loss in Paris to then-World No. 72 Marco Cecchinato had many fans thinking that Djokovic was still well below top form.
He mused about skipping the grass season but after dismissing those thoughts he reached the Queen’s final (l. Cilic) before winning his fourth Wimbledon title, beating Nadal 10-8 in the fifth over two days in the semis in one of the matches of the season before beating Kevin Anderson in the final.
In August he became the first singles player to complete the set of all nine ATP World Tour Masters 1000s by winning Cincinnati in his sixth appearance in the final. Then came the dramatic US Open. Djokovic wilted in oppressively hot and humid conditions in the early stages of his first-round match with World No. 41 Marton Fucsovics and a major upset looked a strong possibility when the players split the first two sets.
But after rallying to beat the Hungarian and then Tennys Sandgren in the second round in four sets, he won 15 straight sets to take the title, beating 2009 champion Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
Should Djokovic win his fourth Shanghai title, on Monday he will move to 155 points of Nadal in the ATP Rankings, which counts points earned in the past 52 weeks. (In the ATP Race To London, which measures only points earned in 2018, Djokovic will trail Nadal by just 35 points.)
That would set up a high-stakes battle when Djokovic and Nadal are next scheduled to face off at the Rolex Paris Masters, beginning 29 October, in the final week of the regular season.
And there is every chance that the year-end No. 1 ATP Ranking will be decided in the final week of the year at the Nitto ATP Finals, to be held 11-18 November in London.
Did You Know?
Pete Sampras owns the record for most year-end No. 1 finishes. The American finished World No. 1 for six consecutive seasons from 1993-98. The ATP Rankings were established in 1973.
– Joshua Rey and Graham Edgar contributed to this story