In a few years time a potential question on Trivial Pursuit could be: Who was the player Rafa Nadal played and beat that allowed him to be the year-end world No.1 for the fourth time? The answer would be Hyeon Chung of South Korea, and the score was 7-5, 6-3 in the second round of the Rolex Paris Masters.
Nadal had to win his first match in Paris-Bercy to clinch the year-end No.1 ranking. Along the way he created some history.
“I am very, very happy for everything,” Nadal said. “It has been an amazing year. One year ago for sure I never dreamed about being world No.1 again at the end of the season. It is something that means a lot to me, but the season is not over.”
At 31 Nadal has become the oldest man to reach the year-end top spot (since the computer rankings began in 1973) and he is the first man to have gained that place, lost it and regained it three times. The last time he ended the year at the top was 2013 and joins Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Novak Djokovic with four stints as year-end No.1. Roger Federer who was also vying for the position but decoded not to play Paris, has five year-end No.1’s while Pete Sampras and Jimmy Connors have six each.
The incredible aspect of Nadal’s rise has been his return from adversity; to keep coming back after so many injuries through his career.
In 2016 his season ended after the Shanghai Rolex Masters but it was all a struggle essentially after the French Open when he had to withdraw mid-tournament because of his left wrist injury which resulted in his wrist being placed in a cast.
Nadal replaced Andy Murray at No.1 on 21 August and has held the place ever since. Nadal has made the biggest single season jump since Andy Roddick in 2003 – he ended 2016 at 9 and now in 2017 he will be 1.
Nadal has won six titles this year while Federer has won seven. Nadal has never won at Bercy nor at the season-ending championships, the ATP Finals which will be Federer’s next event.
How things play out in 2018 will be fascinating to witness. Nadal, like Federer got things off to a great start at the Australian Open. His ranking points have been well spread across the year but he will have to be defending finalist points in Melbourne while Federer has winner points to defend.
Not that Nadal or Federer will be bumped off the top two places even if something dramatic happens, it will be an opportunity with the return of Djokovic and Murray, and maybe Wawrinka that they could be in a position to pick up some important points, just like Rafa and Roger did this year.