Nadal Ends His Season, Handing Djokovic the Year-End No. 1 Ranking

Novak Djokovic returned to No. 1 on Monday after a two-year absence, assuring that he will become the first man in the history of the ATP rankings to finish a season in the top spot after being outside the top 20 during that season.

That’s because the man he overtook, Rafael Nadal, announced that he was done for 2018. Nadal withdrew from the ATP Finals on Monday, citing an abdominal injury, and announced he would have arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle.

Djokovic will be the ATP’s year-ending No. 1 player for the fifth time, pulling even with Roger Federer and Jimmy Connors for the second-most since the computer rankings were introduced in 1973. Pete Sampras holds the record of six.

“Reflecting on what I’ve been through in the last year, it’s quite a phenomenal achievement,” said Djokovic, who was No. 2 last week and had not been No. 1 since November 2016. “And, of course, I’m very, very happy and proud about it. Five months ago, if you told me that — it was highly improbable at that time, considering my ranking and the way I played and felt on the court.”

Djokovic, 31, fell to No. 22 in May after beginning the year with a 6-6 record while recovering from surgery on his right elbow. He had not been ranked that low since he was 22nd in 2006, when he was a teenager.

But Djokovic has gone 43-5 since, including winning Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon and the United States Open after reuniting with Marian Vajda, the longtime coach with whom he had split. Djokovic was the runner-up at the Paris Masters tournament, which ended on Sunday with his loss to Karen Khachanov in the final.

Djokovic increased his haul of major trophies to 14, tied with Sampras for third-most on the men’s career list behind Federer, with 20, and Nadal, with 17.

The last man to go from outside the top 20 to No. 1 within a single season was Marat Safin, who was No. 38 and No. 1 in 2000, before ending that year at No. 2. (Gustavo Kuerten finished at No. 1.)

“What Novak has achieved this season has to go down as one of the great sporting comebacks,” Chris Kerned, the ATP executive chairman, said. “It’s been a phenomenal return to form that would have been hard to imagine just six months ago.”

Nadal said on Twitter on Monday that he was still bothered by the stomach muscle issue that forced him to withdraw from the Paris Masters. Because he wouldn’t be competing at the season-ending tournament in London next week, he opted to have ankle surgery now.

He hasn’t competed since he retired from his U.S. Open semifinal match against Juan Martín del Potro because of pain in his right knee.

Nadal, 32, will end 2018 with a 45-4 record and five titles, including his 11th French Open championship in June.

John Isner will replace Nadal in the ATP Finals field.

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