Novak Djokovic continued to strengthen his case as the GOAT of men’s tennis by securing his record seventh year-end No. 1 ranking on Saturday.
Djokovic fended off Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz, 3-6, 6-0, 7-6(5) in the Paris Indoor semifinals to guarantee the year-end No. 1 and earn a spot in Sunday’s final against Daniil Medvedev, who routed Sascha Zverev, 6-2, 6-2. Djokovic leads Medvedev 5-4 all-time but the Russian beat the Serb in the U.S. Open final to spoil his bid a a calendar Grand Slam.
Djokovic, 34, broke a tie with Pete Sampras, who was No. 1 six times at the end of a year. Djokovic’s chief rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, finished year-end No. 1 five times, as did Jimmy Connors.
“It means the world to me,” Djokovic told Prakash Amritraj of Tennis Channel. “Obviously, I’m thrilled and overwhelmed with wonderful emotions. This was a goal for the end of the season, it was my biggest motivation this week.
“I felt obviously pressure, but pressure is always there. As Billie Jean [King] says, it’s a privilege and it means you’re doing something that you love and you care about something when you feel it. I know how much dedication and work and care went into achieving his historic seven times year-end No. 1, not just for myself but the family, team, everyone around me. It’s amazing to be able to clinch that prior to the finals. Obviously, I’m going to feel a bit more relaxed coming into the finals but playing Zverev or Medvedev, arguably two guys that are in the best shape right now so I’m looking forward to that one.”
With each new achievement, Djokovic seems to be cementing his case as the GOAT.
—He holds the record for most weeks at No. 1 at 345, ahead of Federer’s 310.
—He is seeking his 37th Masters 1000 title, which would break a tie with Nadal. He is the only man to win each of the nine titles once, and the only to accomplish it twice.
—He has won 20 Grand Slam singles titles, tied with Federer and Nadal, who are both eying playing in the Australian Open in January.
—In the U.S. Open final, he came up one match-win shy of becoming the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the calendar Grand Slam.
“I’ve been focused as I’ve watched this race develop between these three incredible champions still at it, the weeks at No. 1,” former world No. 1 Jim Courier said on Tennis Channel. “I think that that’s an under-valued asset as far as achievement goes. There’s too much weight put on the number of majors, but weeks at No. 1 really speaks to the body of work, especially when you factor in that these three champions, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, are all doing it largely at same time.
“It’s so remarkable that Novak has been able to track these guys down and now leapfrog them in a number of vital categories, seven times year-end No. 1 and running away with the weeks at No. 1 as well.”
Courier has previously said Djokovic could compete for major titles until he’s 40 and speculated he will end up with 25-26 majors.
He said the key going forward will be for the Serb to manage his schedule and pick and choose his spots to maximize his chances to accumulate more majors.
“I think he’ll pick his spots to get 4-, 5-, 6-week breaks like we’ve seen,” Courier said. “…That’s what extended Federer’s career so beautifully, too. Federer picked his spots and played sparingly from a young age. I hope we’ll be as luck to have Novak and Rafa play until they’re 40 like we have with Roger, and hopefully beyond.
“But playing a lighter schedule will go a long way toward keeping him fresh and probably healthy as well.”