Ending the calendar year as the world’s number one tennis player is quite the achievement. It is a form of validation for all the hard work put in throughout the year on the tour. And on Saturday (November 6) it was Novak Djokovic who ensured he would end 2021 as the year-end Number 1.
It is a massive deal for Djokovic; he became the first person to clinch the year-end Number 1 on seven straight occasions. He defeated Hubert Hurkacz in the semi-finals of the Paris Masters to seal the deal.
Djokovic has every chance of ending the year with two more titles. He is in the final of the Paris Masters and will also take part in the ATP Finals.
But coming back to this achievement, he now is in a class of his own as far as year-end number 1’s are concerned. But there are others as well who have notched up the feat on multiple occasions.
“Just proud and extremely happy. Obviously that was one of the biggest goals and it’s always one of the biggest goals, to try to be No. 1… To do it for the record seventh time and surpass my childhood idol and role model, Pete, is incredible.”
— ATP Tour (@atptour) November 7, 2021
Let us take a look at the five players with the most year-end world number 1’s in history.
Novak Djokovic first finished as the year-end Number 1 in 2011, in what was a dominant year for him. He won three out of four Grand Slams and a total of 10 titles. He would then go on to repeat the feat a year later. His next runs as the year-end number one came in 2014 and he would again do the same in 2015. After that, he would see two years without the crown.
But in 2018 he would become the sixth player to achieve the feat for a fifth time. 2019 again saw him miss out but having pulled it off in 2020 and 2021, he is now the player with the most year-end number 1’s in history. Interestingly, he is yet to go more than two years straight as the year-end number 1. Could 2022 be the year where that will change? Only time will tell, but few if any would bet against it happening.
The ATP Rankings officially came into effect in 1973, with Romania’s Ille Nastase the first man to end the year on top. But it was the man who came after him in the year-end standings that was the first to truly make it a habit to end the year as top dog. That would be Jimmy Connors, who spent the next five years as the year-end number 1. Few thought that record will be broken – until, of course, Pete Sampras came along.
The record holder before Novak Djokovic, Sampras not only finished the year as world number 1 six times, but he did so in consecutive years. Given the American’s domination of the sport at the time, it should come as little surprise. It is still an astounding feat though, and one that no one has come close to matching. Djokovic’s seven year-end number one’s are stretched out over his career; Sampras spent 6 straight years as the undisputed king come the year-end.
The one person who came closest to eclipsing Sampras’ run of 6 straight year-end number 1’s was the man who many saw as his successor: Roger Federer. The Swiss maestro was the year end number one in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007. Only the emergence of Nadal stopped him from becoming the second man since Connors to make it five on the trot. Federer is also the only one on this list who spent three calendar years – 2005-07 – as the number 1 ranked player for every single week of the year.
Nadal has also won it five times, but his five reigns all came in seperate years. This is also partly down to the fact that, in the mid to late 2000s, the men’s tour was stacked with talent. Federer would retake the year-end number 1 crown in 2009 – his last time achieving that feat – and the era post 2010 saw Nadal and Djokovic trade the crown.
Then there is, of course, the aforementioned Connors. He ended the year as world number 1 on five straight occasions in an era when he was the undisputed king of the ATP Tour.
Honorable mentions for this list goes to John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl; both of them would finish the year ranked world number 1 on four occasions each.
There’s also three players to have achieved this feat on two seperate occasions: Bjorn Borg, Stefan Edberg and Lleyton Hewitt. Hewitt was also the youngest male player to have won the distinction, as he was only 20 years old at the time.