In the last decade men's tennis has been dominated by three names: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. This particular era should, however, not make us forget the instability of the previous years, when seemingly each week saw a new name at the top of the ATP rankings. Here we present the Top 10 shortest reigns as world #1.
Patrick Rafter – 1 week
In 1999, Patrick Rafter entered history twice. First, for being the first man to play - and beat - Roger Federer in a Grand Slam, at Roland Garros. Second, because to this day he's still holds the dubious distinctions of having the shortest reign at the top of the rankings: one short week, between July 26th and August 1st. The Australian might have thought himself able to cement his position in the U.S. Open that same summer of 1999, having previously taken two titles there. However, hobbled by a knee injury, he was knocked out in the first round by the French Cedric Pioline. It proved quite a setback, as he would never win another major tournament thereafter and retired three years later. Too bad for "Pat", yet who still had his fifteen minutes of Warholian fame.
Carlos Moya – 2 weeks
If he had to choose only one year in his career, Carlos Moya would definitely choose 1998. At 21 years old, the Spaniard surprised everybody at Roland Garros and was awarded the Musketeers Cup from the hands of the legendary Pelé as the World Cup was about to start in France. But it was not until 10 months later that he managed to dethrone Pete Sampras as leader of the ATP rankings. In the aftermath, Moya bowed out in the fourth round at Roland Garros, against eventual winner Andre Agassi. Then came an injury at the U.S. Open. He didn't know it yet, but his glory days were already behind him.
Marcelo Rios – 6 weeks
After reaching the Australian Open final in 1998, and following it up with victory at Indian Wells, Marcelo Rios overtook Pete Sampras in the ATP rankings. To the reporter who asked him if this place of World No. 1 was bringing him closer to the South American tennis legend Guillermo Vilas, the mean-spirited Chilean answered: "Vilas? Who is Vilas? He was never number one." True, but Rios wasn't there to stay: just 6 weeks in total, before Sampras reclaimed his spot. Blame it on yet-another dismal performance at Wimbledon, a tournament where he never was successful. Not enough of a gentleman, probably...
Thomas Muster – 6 weeks
There was a time that people under 20 years old never knew. A time when two Americans ruled the tennis world: one prematurely balding (Andre Agassi), the other with bushy eyebrows (Pete Sampras). In 1996, these two titans were leaving only crumbs to their sole credible opponent, an Austrian lumberjack who managed to hit the top of the table for a few weeks. To do it, Thomas Muster had to win no less than 19 ATP titles to finally grasp the title of “World’s Number One”. A heroic effort for fleeting glory: in spring 1997, after one last major title in Miami, he started to decline and slid hopelessly down the rankings.
Ievgueni Kafelnikov – 6 weeks
Last name: Kafelnikov. First name: Yevgeny. Nationality: Russian Occupation: professional tennis player. Profile: glutton. And we not talking about his generous jowls he's been filling since his retirement in 2003, but rather of his tendency, in his glory days, of being unable to say “No” to any tournament, earning a reputation for chasing the money. Hence also his prize list, certainly impressive, but that could have been much more so if he had known how to manage his seasons properly. In 1999, however, he managed to become world number 1 for a month-and-a-half, in the wake of his victory at the Australian Open. His moment in the sun before returning to the shade as a dark horse of the tour. Such a shame...
John Newcombe – 8 weeks
Glory to the senior: John Newcombe certainly has the best track record in this top 10, with no fewer than seven Grand Slam titles to his name. His “problem”: five of these seven wins came before the establishment of the ATP in August 1973. Too bad for him that he played at a time when Ilie Nastase's career was in its heyday and when a certain Jimmy Connors was starting his ascent. However, between the two, he spent eight short weeks in the hot-seat, between June 3rd and July 28th, 1974. Otherwise, away from the court, it should be noted that John Newcombe was the drinking partner of the young George W. Bush, the future president of the United States, when the latter was arrested for driving while intoxicated in September 1976.
Juan Carlos Ferrero – 8 weeks
On the 8th of September 2003, Juan Carlos Ferrero ended Andre Agassi’s last spell as number one, after the duel between the two men won by the Spaniard in the semi-final of the U.S. Open. The end of one reign, the beginning of another…? Not exactly, since only two months later, it is Andy Roddick, who beat Ferrero in that U.S. Open final, who would find himself in the top spot in the ATP ranking. Too bad for the good Juan Carlos, who didn't really have the time to capitalize on his victory at Roland Garros, acquired the previous spring...
Marat Safin – 9 weeks
Even more impressive than Ferrero ending the reign of Agassi, Marat Safin knocked the imperious Pete Sampras from his throne in November 2000, after a total of 286 weeks at the top the charts. Winner of the U.S. Open that year, Safin was immediately hampered in his ascent by Gustavo Kuerten, who was coveting the same throne. The Russian and the Brazilian will then go mano-a-mano for several weeks, until "Guga" took a definite advantage in the spring. Safin lacked consistency to really succeed on the tour, but he will be remembered as a player more unpredictable than attractive. Proof with this amazing and yet recent conversion to politics as an MP under the banner of United Russia, the party of Vladimir Putin!
Boris Becker – 12 weeks
The only German to be World No. 1 in men's tennis was able to reach the top spot only when his country was reunified, following the fall of the Berlin Wall. That was in 1991, with a victory at the Australian Open - his fifth Grand Slam tournament - then a final at Wimbledon. But soon, his eternal rival Stefan Edberg resumed his domination. He would have to wait for five long years, and another Australian Open, to take home his sixth and final Grand Slam title. At the time, however, a new duel was already raging: that of Sampras and Agassi...
Andy Roddick – 13 weeks
The Yankee is the only one amongst the ten to have ended a season as World No. 1. That was in 2003, after his brilliant victory at the U.S. Open. Roddick was then only 21 years old and many believed that he was there to stay. This was without counting on the irresistible rise of a certain Roger Federer, who won his second Grand Slam title in Australia in the winter of 2004 and hit the top of the world rankings for the first time in his career. A position he wouldn’t surrender for more than 4 years before Rafael Nadal arrived to challenge his leadership. The beginning of a new era, and Roddick would never get over it: four more times he would make it to a Grand Slam final of a tournament, and four times he would fail, always against the same man: Roger Federer. Relentless.
By Régis Delanoë