On The Line In 2021: Djokovic closing in on Federer’s No. 1 record

On The Line In 2021: Djokovic closing in on Federer’s No. 1 record

If the Serb hangs onto the top spot for seven more weeks, he’ll break the record for most career weeks at No. 1 in ATP rankings history—there could be a last-minute plot twist, though.

Today in our On The Line series: Novak Djokovic's quest for ranking history. Earlier this week, we discussed his Grand Slam title race with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, while Wednesday was devoted to Serena Williams and her fight for the all-time Grand Slam record

Novak Djokovic still has work to do to catch up to the Grand Slam record—he has 17 majors, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have 20 each. But there is one record the Serb is closing in on, and he’s closing in on it fast: the record for most career weeks at No. 1 in ATP rankings history.

This week—the week of January 18, 2021—is Djokovic’s 304th career week at No. 1 on the ATP rankings, just six weeks shy of Federer’s all-time record of 310. The Serb is currently scheduled to tie Federer at 310 weeks on March 1st, and surpass the Swiss with his 311th week on March 8th.

There could be a last-minute plot twist, though.

If Nadal wins the Australian Open and adds enough points at the ATP Cup and Rotterdam—which announced this week that the Spaniard would be playing there for the first time since 2009—then he could snatch No. 1 from Djokovic on March 8th, leaving him tied with Federer until further notice.

But just how likely is that scenario?

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It’s actually not that far-fetched—the main thing that must happen is that Nadal needs to win the Australian Open, which he’s done once before, in 2009. Granted, it’s the Grand Slam he’s won the least—he has 13 French Opens, two Wimbledons and four US Opens. But he’s been a win away from another Australian Open crown four times in eight appearances since then, finishing runner-up to Djokovic in 2012, to Stan Wawrinka in 2014, to Federer in 2017 and to Djokovic again in 2019.

In the 2012 and 2017 finals, he was just a few service holds away from the title.

Conquering Melbourne would make up 1,640 of what is currently a 2,180-point gap between No. 2 Nadal (9,850) and No. 1 Djokovic (12,030). The Spaniard could make up the other 540 points at his other two scheduled events over the next six weeks—he can add up to 250 points at the ATP Cup (he earned 250 there last year and the max this year is 500) and up to 500 points in Rotterdam (with the title). Rotterdam points will be added on March 8th, hence the “last-minute plot twist” from earlier.

Djokovic’s points will stay the same until then, unless he adds extra events to his upcoming schedule—he will keep all of his points from going undefeated at the ATP Cup and winning the Australian Open last year on his ranking no matter how he does at the same events over the next six weeks.

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Of course, even if Nadal crushes it over the next six weeks and sweeps in at the last minute to stop Djokovic from breaking Federer’s record, that could very well be just a stay of execution. The first Masters 1000 of the season is scheduled to take place a few weeks later in Miami, and Djokovic, who’s only defending 90 points there, has won the event six times. Nadal has never won there.

At the end of the day it’s extremely likely—though not set in stone—that Djokovic will break Federer’s record soon. And when it happens, he’ll have completed one of his two biggest goals.

”This is one of my two, I would say, biggest professional goals, is to reach the record of—surpass—Roger’s record for longest No. 1, and win as many Slams as possible,” he said en route to winning his 36th Masters 1000 crown in Rome last September. “I've said that before, so I’m working towards that.

“I’m at a good place now, in a good position. Hopefully I can stay healthy and continue to play well.”