When Rafa Nadal scored his close 7-6, 7-6 win over Stan Wawrinka in the round robin series of the ATP World Tour Finals he showed more than his usual happiness; it was because he had also secured the year end world No.1 ranking for the third time.

Nadal became the first man to regain the year-end world No.1 ranking twice. He first held it in 2008, regained it in 2010 and now in 2013. Ivan Lendl and Roger Federer were the only others who were able to regain it, and they did it once each.

“At the end during all my season I said is not my goal, but the real thing is after all the success I had during the season, winning, you know, five Masters 1000s, playing a final in another, winning a few 500s, playing another final, winning two Grand Slams, so I think that after all what happened last year, I felt I deserved to be there at the end of the season,” said Nadal.

“So was one of the, you know, best things that I did in my career: come back to the No. 1 after three seasons.  That's very difficult in our sport, and after a very important injury. That's an emotional thing for me, for sure.”

At this time last year he was at home trying to recuperate and get his knees all fixed up. Being year-end world No.1 was not on or in his mind, not even for motivation.

“How I can think to be back in this position when I am at home without having the chance to even practice?” he said. “I cannot think far away than the next day and how my knee going to feels next day, and after next week, and after next month. My thoughts was on that, nothing else.”

This marks the tenth straight season that the year-end world No. 1 ranking has been held by Nadal (2008, ’10, ‘13) or Roger Federer (2004-07, ’09) or Novak Djokovic (2011-12).

Nadal returned to world No. 1 on 7th October for the first time in more than two years after reaching his 13th final of a phenomenal season at the China Open in Beijing. He made his comeback in February with a No. 5 ranking following a seven-month injury layoff and won 10 titles, including Roland Garros, US Open and five ATP World Tour Masters 1000 triumphs. He also went undefeated on hard courts (26-0) through the China Open final, when he finished runner-up to Djokovic. 

Nadal first attained the No. 1 ranking on 18 August 2008 for a period of 46 weeks, becoming the first Spaniard to finish a season at the summit of men’s professional tennis. He regained the top spot from Federer on 7 June 2010, for another 56-week stretch, before relinquishing No. 1 to Djokovic following the 2011 Wimbledon final. This is his Nadal’s 107th week at No.1 for his career.

Ironically he had been playing down the whole number one notion. It was probably to remove any pressure from himself, allowing him to just get the results on the board … which he certainly has done brilliantly in 2013 after being away for those seven months because of the knees.

“It came important after the US Open, because after winning five Masters 1000s, two Grand Slams, all the things, I felt that I had everything to be there,” said Nadal. “But at the same time, I have a zero in Australia, I have a zero in Miami, I have a zero in Wimbledon. A lot of zeros to be No. 1.  I think is a great effort because I have unbelievable competitors in front.  That makes the year‑end No. 1 very, very special.

“You can feel how tough is everything that winning all the things that I win this year, until the last tournament, I was not able to make it.  So that makes everybody think how difficult is be there.”

What Nadal has achieved this year after being off the tour for so long has been nothing short of sensational. Now, if he goes on to win the ATP World Tour Finals for the first time, he would have won every major title worth winning – all four Grand Slams, the Olympic gold medal, the Davis Cup and the season-ending championship.

No other current male player can boast that.