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Top five players to become oldest men's singles World No. 1 in ATP rankings

Published at :April 8, 2024 at 4:56 PM
Modified at :April 10, 2024 at 1:48 PM
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(Courtesy : NDTV)

Mohammed Fazeel

A look at veterans who ruled men’s tennis.

Taking the top spot in an individual sport like tennis is no small feat – but that’s the easy part. Holding on to the No. 1 position is easier said than done, with the competition snapping at the heels of the top-ranked player and looking to bump them off the pedestal.

Trying to remain at the No. 1 position is like a game of musical chairs – the positions switch so often that retaining it is a noteworthy achievement.

Here are some players on the ATP Tour who reached the top spot after their 30th birthday since the ATP rankings became mainstream about half a century ago, in 1973.

Jimmy Connors – 30 years, 304 days

Jimmy Connors began his stay of 268 weeks as World No. 1 on July 29, 1974, for his first stint at the top, lasting 160 weeks without a break until August 22, 1977. Connors spent a total of 268 weeks at the top of the ATP rankings. The Illinois native won eight Grand Slams – five of them coming at Flushing Meadows. Connors also picked up 109 titles over a career spanning 21 years – an Open Era record that still stands.

The 160 straight weeks as No. 1 by Jimmy Connors was a record until a certain Roger Federer came along and went past the American 46 years and 11 months after his first stint as the No. 1 player ended. Connors kept the year-end No. 1 spot for five years running, between 1974 and 1978.

The exploits by the American came in a crowded field full of exceptional talent that saw him rub shoulders with the likes of John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl and Bjorn Borg.

Andre Agassi – 33 years, 100 days

Andre Agassi, the showman from Las Vegas, began his first week as ATP World No. 1 on April 10, 1995 and held the top spot for 101 weeks in all. Agassi was No. 1 for 52 of those 101 weeks in a row and the year-end top-ranked player in 1999. Agassi’s uninterrupted journey as the top ATP player began on September 13, 1999, following that year’s US Open and ended on September 10, 2000, with the Nevadan handing the top spot over to Pete Sampras.

The American has a career Grand Slam, having won each major title at least once. He also won the gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. The enigmatic Agassi won eight Grand Slam titles, enjoying significant success away from home, winning four Australian Open titles and two at the US Open. One win each came at Wimbledon and Roland Garros.

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Rafael Nadal – 33 years, 244 days

Rafael Nadal, who also goes by the moniker, “King of Clay,” is the third oldest player to be ATP World No. 1. The Mallorcan held on to the No. 1 position for 209 weeks – 56 of those were consecutive between June 7, 2010 and July 4, 2011.

Nadal has spent the longest time among the top 10 in the ATP rankings for a mind-boggling 912 straight weeks between 2005 and 2023. Jimmy Connors is a distant second at 789 weeks between 1973 and 1988. He was consistency personified until his injury-laden 2023 season. Nadal’s contemporary, Roger Federer was in the top 10 bracket for 734 uninterrupted weeks (2002-16).

Of the Spaniard’s 22 Grand Slam titles, 14 have come on the clay courts of Roland Garros – a tour record. Since his win on debut at the French Open in 2005 as a 19-year-old, he failed to convert only one of his next 10 appearances into a title.

Roger Federer – 36 years, 320 days

Until April 7, 2024, it was the Swiss maestro holding the mantle of the oldest No. 1 in the ATP rankings. That has now been eclipsed by Novak Djokovic. Federer still holds on to one probably insurmountable record – that of remaining as World No. 1 for 237 consecutive weeks out of 310 weeks atop the table. It is by far the longest streak as No. 1 in the history of the sport since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Federer’s uninterrupted reign at the top of the rankings came between February 2, 2004 and August 17, 2008 – lasting an incredible four years and six months. To put things in perspective, Serena Williams and Steffi Graf share the next longest streak as No. 1 in tennis, coming in at 186 weeks – a whole year behind Federer.

Novak Djokovic – 36 years, 322 days 

Novak Djokovic continues to stack up on the records and cross milestones. In recent months, the Serb crossed 400 weeks as ATP World No. 1. He is currently on week No. 420 overall as the top-ranked men’s player – making Djokovic the oldest No. 1 in the world. The 36-year-old kept the No. 1 ranking for 122 consecutive weeks and is third in that respect behind Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors.  The Serbian’s uninterrupted time as World No. 1 stretched from July 7, 2014 to November 6, 2016. 

Djokovic finished as year-ending No. 1 for a record eighth time when he defeated Dane Holger Rune in the opening round of the Nitto ATP Finals in November 2023. He is now on top of the pile, having gone up one more than Sampras, who was year-end No. 1 for six summers between 1993 and 1998.

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