As Novak Djokovic set yet another record, Holger Rune was a worthy opponent. With 400 weeks spent at the top of the rankings, the 36-year-old Serbian will conclude the season as the world’s number one player for the eighth time. He also now has a significant lead in that statistic.
In 2023, Djokovic has been completely dominating, even by his own standards. With just one loss, against Carlos Alcaraz in the Wimbledon final, he has a record-breaking 24 major victories at the Australian, French, and US Opens. His record at the grand slams this season is 27-1.
Although Djokovic’s 2011 and 2015 seasons stand out as even greater peaks, these stats reflect a player at the prime of their abilities. But one thing is certain: at this point in their career, no player in men’s tennis history has been so good.
Defying the “younger ones” has given Djokovic, who is 36, determination to ascend once again. When Novak Djokovic was unable to compete in New York or Australia, or to collect ranking points from winning Wimbledon, Alcaraz emerged as the world’s top player at the end of the 2022 season and was clearly aiming to return in 2023.
Before this week’s ATP Finals got underway, Djokovic stated, “I think it’s an extra motivation for me to compete with the younger players because I know they’re hungry for success and want to become the world’s number one.”
At the season-ending event, which attracts the world’s eight best players, Djokovic’s longevity is even more remarkable. Being the last of his generation playing against athletes born up to two decades after him, Djokovic emerges as a genuine anomaly inside the chosen field.
The next oldest player after Djokovic is Daniil Medvedev, who is 27 years old. Alexander Zverev and Andrey Rublev are both 26 years old, while Stefanos Tsitsipas is 25. As their successors rise, Djokovic has maintained his position at the top of the game by consistently defeating this generation, which is the first wave of players of the post-big three era.
Alcaraz, Rune, and Jannik Sinner, three Gen Z contenders who have attempted to challenge the world No. 1 without the scar tissue of Djokovic’s grand slam losses, which has hindered many of their contemporaries, are among the players making their tournament debuts at this year’s ATP Finals.
The best illustration of this was Alcaraz’s courageous triumph against Djokovic in the Wimbledon final, but the Serbian’s response was telling: Djokovic hasn’t lost since losing in five sets on Centre Court. Having won 17 straight matches, including the US Open and the Paris Masters, he was the 40th Masters champion and 24th grand slam champion of his career when he arrived in Turin.
Djokovic’s opening encounter at the ATP Finals on Sunday night had an obvious instant incentive. Following wins in Rome this spring and Paris last season, Rune, a 20-year-old Dane, took the lead in their head-to-head record, sparking a rivalry with Djokovic.
However, in their last two encounters—in Paris earlier this season and now in Turin—Djokovic has elevated himself, apparently in response to a catalyst. Snarling and smashing rackets, Djokovic stormed to a three-set victory in his tournament opener, 7-6 (4) 6-7 (1) 6-3. Djokovic’s comfort level taking on the fans and playing the villain has been another recurring element of the season.
The next record Djokovic hopes to break is the record held by Roger Federer, who became the oldest world no. 1 in history when he reached the age of 36 years and 10 months. This is a testament to both his mental and physical fortitude.
When Novak Djokovic turns 37 in May, he will aim to make history by being the first player to hold the top spot in the rankings at that age. He is certain that he will remain there, and he now abides by the maxim “age is just a number.”
He feels that the strength in his physique has not changed over years. In September, Djokovic won his 24th grand slam victory at the US Open. “It probably sounds cocky or arrogant, but I’m not really surprised,” he remarked. “This is something I deserve because I am aware of the amount of effort, commitment, and work I have put into trying to be in this position.”
This week is going to be difficult, especially because of Tuesday night’s home match against the Italian Sinner and the Turin supporters. Despite the fact that Sinner, 22, will need to be significantly more decisive than he was in his straight-set loss to Djokovic in this year’s Wimbledon semifinals.
This will be their first encounter on a hard court, and Sinner has long been regarded as having the talent to prevail in this particular match-up. Djokovic’s group also includes Tsitsipas, the winner of the 2013 ATP Finals.
If the Serbian advances, they may play each other again. However, going into the ATP Finals, the Spaniard had lost three of his previous five matches and was paired with the formidable Medvedev, who had defeated him in the US Open semifinals, as well as a revitalized Zverev.
As Novak Djokovic looks to win another ATP Finals title, there are rivals, but there is only one clear favorite. Properly speaking, winning seven ATP Finals titles would set a new record.