Everyone likes exclusivity, being part of something that maybe the next person cannot get into. There are plenty of such clubs around where the membership is controlled by strict criteria. In the world of professional tennis, having spent a period as World No.1 is rarefied air when you consider how many have played and continue to play the sport at the very highest level.
The World No.1* Club is the most exclusive club in tennis, there are just 55 members; even the All England Lawn Tennis Club (Wimbledon) has more and is capped with 500 members. There are 27 men and 28 women in the No.1 club and the two most recent members were initiated this year – Daniil Medvedev on 28 February and Iga Swiatek on 4 April.
When Ash Barty announced her retirement so suddenly from tennis while being World No1, she like many before her who had retired, asked for her name to be removed from the rankings list. By doing that Miss. Swiatek assumed the top spot by default but then after winning the Miami Open, she officially climbed to the summit of tennis’ Everest.
“I mean, I'm still the same person, the same Iga. I want to stay that way,” Swiatek said when she first rose to No.1. “My biggest idols stayed the same way; they are the same people. I don't want the success to change me like in a negative way. Obviously, it gives me a lot of confidence and satisfaction. But in terms of me as a person, I'm still going to be the same.”
But there are the positives and negatives with the responsibility of being at the top. It’s how you deal with it that matters. Like Rudyard Kipling’s poem recites about treating the imposters of triumph and disaster the same.
“I really enjoy when I have a request about what hour I want to play, and they are actually listening. That’s nice,” Swiatek said with a smile across her face when asked about the best thing is of being No.1. “I really enjoy … I don’t know. Maybe the gifts sometimes. Maybe that I can put more pressure on my opponents. I feel more pressure so that’s not enjoyable, but I have been doing well with that. So, I don’t know what I don’t enjoy. I really like requesting matches.”
Her fellow new recruit Daniil Medvedev had it for just two weeks and he liked it a lot even though he did not enough time to fully savour it; one thing’s for sure is he wants more. Problem is his fourth-round loss at the French Open could force him to wait longer.
“It's not something that pressures me, because I'm really happy I managed to do it,” he said. “It's something nobody can take away from me. Not that many players could take it so it's a great motivation to try to come back there.”
For a total of 209 weeks Rafa Nadal held the World No.1 ranking and he took it in his stride unlike a fellow legend like John McEnroe who suggested in the past that he found being numero uno was a burden at times. Maybe more negative than positive. He did not embrace it like say a Roger Federer did.
Nadal said he was not able to give a clear answer to what he found was the best and toughest aspects of being number one. With his best humility, which is never doubted, he said he never considered himself No.1.
“For me it’s just a number,” Nadal said. “For me and my approach to all my goals in every tournament that I play, never changed if I was No. 1 or if I was No. 3 or No. 6. So, in that way, I never felt an extra pressure for being No. 1 or an extra happiness for being No. 1. Of course, when you achieve the No. 1, it's a beautiful moment. But then I never waked up in the morning thinking, okay, I am the No. 1.
“I just had a normal life being No.1, being No.5, or being No.100. In my personal case, I just worked, doesn't matter the number, the same way to try to improve, and that's it, no? In that case, I never felt an extra pressure for being No. 1 or for hold the No. 1, no, because my pressure have been always the same. It's just try to be ready for every tournament that I play.”
By contrast, Novak Djokovic, who at the time of publishing is at an all-time men’s record of 372 weeks at No.1 and is destined to pass Stefanie Graf’s all-time tennis record of 377 weeks, says “being No.1 is the best and worst thing about being No.1 because that’s an ultimate challenge in this sport”.
He says it’s his highest goal every season and being in the era of Federer and Nadal makes that achievement even greater.
“The downside of being No.1 is that you are always being chased by everyone else that wants to dethrone you and wants to win every singles match against you regardless of the event size (but) I’ve gotten used to that feeling,” Djokovic said. “Going for the No.1 ranking is an ultimate challenge. It gives me more motivation when I face guys who challenge me for the top spot.
“It’s really kind of a Mount Everest to climb in an individual sport, particularly in this era. That makes the achievement even greater.”
* the stats relate from when the computer rankings came into being – 1973 for the men, 1975 for the women
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