After a historic first half of the season, and after years of coming so close, Novak Djokovic finally rose to No. 1 on the ATP rankings for the first time on July 4, 2011, exactly nine years ago today.
He clinched No. 1 by beating Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the semifinals of Wimbledon, then fulfilled a childhood dream by winning the title, beating the man he’d replace at No. 1, Rafael Nadal, in the final.
“I can’t find the words to describe the feeling that I have right now,” he said after his triumph at The Championships. “I managed to achieve a lifetime goal and make my dream come true, all in three days’ time. It’s an incredible feeling I’m never going to forget. This is the best day of my tennis career.
“For these kinds of days, I was practicing every day, being dedicated, being a tennis professional. Any athlete in the world dreams of being No. 1—it’s something that gives us a lot of motivation. So finally when you really do it and when you know that you’re the best, it’s just an amazing achievement.”
And it wasn’t just the Wimbledon title that pushed Djokovic to No. 1, it was a near note-perfect first six months of the season. He began the year as a distant No. 3, with 6,240 ranking points—nearly 3,000 points behind No. 2 Roger Federer’s 9,145, and more than 6,000 behind No. 1 Nadal’s 12,450.
But the Serb got off to a blistering 41-0 start to the year, winning the Australian Open, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome, before finally seeing his winning streak come to an end at the hands of Federer in the French Open semis. It was only a temporary glitch in the matrix, though, as he rebounded a few weeks later at the All England Club to propel him to the top of the rankings.
His ascent to No. 1 followed more than four years of hovering in the No. 2-No. 4 range.
“We all know the careers of Nadal and Federer. They have been the two most dominant players in the world the last five years—they have won most of the majors we are playing in,” he said. “Sometimes it felt a little bit frustrating to get to the later stages of a Grand Slam, meaning last four, last eight, and then you have to meet them. They always come up with their best tennis when it matters most. But it’s a process of learning, a process of developing and improving as a tennis player, as a person, and just finding the way to mentally overcome those pressures and expectations and issues you have.
“I always believed I have the quality to beat those two guys. I always believed I have the quality to win majors, Grand Slams, and that was the only way I could be here in this position, you know.”
Through the end of the 2010 season, Djokovic was 7-16 against Nadal and 6-13 against Federer. But since the start of 2011, the Serb has gone 22-10 against the Spaniard and 21-10 against the Swiss.
Since he first rose to No. 1 nine years ago, Djokovic has spent by far the most time there
There have been 455 weeks of ATP rankings since then—which doesn’t include all of the weeks since March 23 of this year, when the rankings were frozen due to the coronavirus pandemic and the tour being suspended—and he’s held the top spot for 282 of those 455 weeks, which is 62% of the time.
Meanwhile, the other 173 of those 455 weeks at No. 1 have been split up between Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray. The Spaniard has spent 107 weeks at No. 1 since Djokovic first got to the top spot (23.5%), the Swiss has spent 25 weeks there (5.5%) and the Scot has had 41 weeks (9.0%).