Novak Djokovic sets another record amid the tennis elite – 311 weeks at No1 and counting

Novak Djokovic has claimed the men’s record for most weeks at the top of the rankings

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

It has been no secret for most of 2021, certainly among those with any interest in tennis.

Novak Djokovic, who consolidated an unbroken year at the top of the rankings with the defence of his Australian Open title last month, can finally see it in black and white: He has claimed the men’s record for most weeks at No1.

On the first day of March, he equalled the Roger Federer tally of 310 weeks, but seven days on, he has now risen to the top, almost 10 years after he first claimed the No1 spot after winning his first Wimbledon title in 2011.

That in itself was a momentous moment: Federer and Rafael Nadal had between them held that position since February 2004. But Djokovic had increasingly been snapping at their heels since breaking their duoply at the Majors in Australia in 2008—and Federer and Nadal had won the previous 11 and would win 10 of the next 11.

He had announced his presence at the top table at Masters level even earlier, winning two of them in 2007, plus two more and the Masters Cup alongside that Australian title in 2008.

He was firmly established at No3 for most of the next two years, but his biggest surge was still to come: The man from Serbia would be galvanised like never before after leading his nation to its first Davis Cup, on home soil, at the end of 2010.

He later said, following his Wimbledon victory seven months later:

“After the Davis Cup win I was full of life, full of energy, eager to come back to the tennis court, eager to play some more, win some other tournaments. In a sentence, I lost my fear. I believed in my abilities more than ever. Australia was one of the best tournaments I played in my life.”

That first Major title preluded a year of 10 titles that included five Masters and three Majors—he went on to win his first US Open, too. Even the most elusive Major was finally sealed, the French Open in 2016, and that was a particular cause for celebration after his shot at the calendar Grand Slam was halted in the Roland Garros final by Stan Wawrinka in 2015. Even so, Djokovic became the only man since Rod Laver to hold all four Majors at the same time, albeit not in the same season.

And that swing through 2015 and 2016 piled on not just big titles but his longest unbroken stint at No1. Little wonder: in 2015 he accumulated 82 match-wins and 11 titles, and in 2016, 65 wins and seven titles. And not just any titles: five Majors, 10 Masters and the 2015 ATP Finals in London.

There was something of a hiatus in 2017 as Djokovic wrestled an elbow injury and a dip in confidence that saw him mix up his long-standing coaching team. But come 2018, he was back on track, returned to No1, and clinched the year-end No1 for the fifth time following a 22-match winning streak. He also reached another personal target: equalling Pete Sampras’s 14 Major titles with victories at Wimbledon and the US Open.

A year-long stint at the top was ended by Nadal in late 2019, but it seemed entirely appropriate that Djokovic would reclaim it at his beloved Australian Open, just before the global pandemic shut down tennis until August.

For the duration of the lock-down, and on through the current frozen rankings, Djokovic has continued to reign supreme, adding points where he could—at the Rome and Cincinnati Masters, the French Open and the ATP Finals—and all the while, preserving the points from 2019 victories—Wimbledon, and the Madrid and Paris Masters among them.

Amid these troubled coronavirus times, Djokovic also made it clear that he had specific targets to keep the blood pumping and the mind sharp. In a long interview last May with Graham Bensinger, he said:

“I think that I still have things to do here in this sport. I believe that I can win the most Slams and break the record for [most weeks] at No1. Those are definitely my clear goals.”

He now has one of those, and there is little sign of anyone else halting the rise in those numbers for many weeks yet. Djokovic can pace himself as he sees fit, and is set to return in Miami and Monte-Carlo—where again he can put on extra points—and focus on the supreme challenge of winning another French Open.

Now with 18 Majors, of course, he has plenty of time yet to match and exceed the current record of 20 held jointly by Nadal and Federer. The former, still so dominant at the tournament he first won as a teenager, will still be favoured to extend his jaw-dropping record of 13 French titles, while Federer, returning this week after 13 months away and double knee surgery, has made his ambition for another Wimbledon title very clear.

He told the media in Doha this weekend:

“[The season] is still building up to being stronger, better, fitter, faster… So I hope then by Wimbledon, I’m going to be 100 percent. And from then on, the season really starts for me. Everything until then, it’s just, ‘Let’s see how it goes’… Everything starts hopefully with the grass.”

Yet there is no getting away from it: Djokovic remains the form man in tennis, with a 9-0 run so far in 2021, and well over 2,000 points more than the next two, Nadal and Daniil Medvedev.

He has reclaimed the lead from Nadal for total Masters titles, 36 of them, and has also equalled Sampras’s record of six year-end No1s.

How long can he continue to stack up the numbers? His great rivals, Federer and Nadal, have proved that tennis life does not end at 30, nor even the mid-30s. So it is probably fair to say that the hyper-fit, super-determined man from Belgrade has plenty more miles left in the tank.

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