By winning one round-robin match at the O2—and in a style worthy of a No1 player, from 5-1 and match-point down in the final set—he as good as sealed his place before Djokovic then confirmed it with his loss to Roger Federer on Thursday night. Another come-back victory on Friday afternoon also saw him maintain his campaign to make the knock-out stages of this tournament.
Having previously finished at the top in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2017, Nadal is the first player to hold, lose and regain the year-end No1 on four occasions. He is also the first player to finish at the top five times in non-consecutive years. The 11-year gap between his first year-end No 1 season (2008) and his last (2019) is also a record. And at the age of 33, Nadal is also now the oldest player to finish as year-end No1.
Nadal is the fifth player to finish the year at the top of the rankings on five or more occasions, following in the footsteps of Pete Sampras (6), Jimmy Connors (5), Federer (5) and Djokovic (5).
Chris Kermode, ATP Executive Chairman and President, said:
“Rafa has had another incredible season and fully deserves this accolade for a remarkable fifth time in his career. Since the inception of the ATP rankings in 1973, only 17 players can lay claim to finishing year-end No1 – it’s unquestionably one of the toughest achievements in all sport. On behalf of ATP, many congratulations to Rafa and his team.”
The Spanish star, who played only nine tournaments in 2018 and pulled out of the season after retiring in the semis of the US Open, returned in 2019 with some of the best tennis of his career.
In compiling a 53-7 match record, Nadal has captured four trophies, including an historic 12th title at the French Open in June and a fourth at the US Open in September. He won a ninth Rome Masters, and then extended his record number of Masters titles to 35 at the Montreal Masters. He also reached the Australian Open final.
The biggest title missing from his extraordinary resume—19 Majors, 35 Masters, four times a member of the Davis Cup winning team, and with Olympic gold in both singles and doubles—is the one he is playing this week. He has qualified for the ATP Finals 15 times, appeared nine times and made the final twice.
And judging from the effort he has put in at the O2 this week, it will not be want of trying if he fails to win this particular trophy. Yet he is content, even so, to have achieved what he has. He told the packed arena as he stood alongside the huge No1 trophy:
“After all the things I went through in my career in terms of injuries, I never thought at the age of 33 and a half I would have this trophy in my hands again. It’s something really, really emotional for me, a lot of work. Without all my team and family that is here, this would be impossible, so thank you very, very much.
“There have been some bad moments, and [my team] has always been there, so honestly, without the support of all these people, things will be much different for me. They encourage me to keep going and I can’t thank them enough.”
“This trophy is an achievement for all year around so personally today, I can’t thank you enough all enough for all the support in this personal match—and all the time I have been playing here in London.”
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BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge