For 361 weeks, Serbian legend Novak Djokovic ranked No.1 in the ATP. His journey to the top has been a memorable one, with 2021 being a standout year. Highlights include nearly achieving the Calendar Slam, a feat that requires winning the 4 Grand Slams all in the same year: The Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon, and the US Open. His Wimbledon victory cemented his place among the tennis greats. With a 20th Grand Slam under his belt, he tied with fellow players Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer for men with the most Grand Slam wins. Djokovic also had a shot at the Olympic gold medal and performed admirably, coming just short of a bronze. Although he failed to cinch the Calendar Slam, Novak’s year-end standing left him head and shoulders above the competition. As far as the world was concerned, the Djoker’s reign at the top was here to stay.
Signs of trouble
It was supposed to be business as usual for Djokovic in Melbourne, Australia. However, conflict arose concerning his visa entry. He was forced out of the country after a complicated legal battle. During Djokovic’s absence in the Australian Open, Rafa Nadal swooped in to claim his record-breaking 21st Grand Slam by defeating Daniil Medvedev, who was ranked No.2 at the time. As a result, Medvedev gained many ranking points through his 2nd place finish in Melbourne. Though Novak remained at the No.1 spot, the gap between him and Medvedev was rapidly closing. Still, Djokovic sought to compete wherever he could to retain his rank. Everything hinged on the next tournament.
Djokovic later returned to compete in Dubai, where there are no vaccine requirements. He was ready to hit the courts again for the first time in 2022. His first opponent of the year: 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti from Italy, ranked No.58. In just 1 hour and 14 minutes, Djokovic claimed a swift victory against Musetti. The king had officially returned. With victory after victory, Djokovic taking the championship seemed like a foregone conclusion. Then in the quarterfinals, he ran into a peculiar opponent. Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic played against Djokovic in the past, where he emerged victorious in Monte Carlo. Now ranked No.123, Vesely didn’t seem to stand a chance against Djokovic. In a shocking twist, history would repeat itself as Vesely once again defeated Djokovic. At that moment, Novak’s reign at the top came to an end.
Rise of a new No.1
Meanwhile, in the Mexican Open, Daniil Medvedev advanced to the semifinals before losing to Nadal. Djokovic’s earlier absence in Melbourne allowed Medvedev to close the gap in ranking points. Combined with his Mexican Open placement, Medvedev now had enough points to claim the No.1 spot. This marks the first time since 2004 that someone not named Andy Murray, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, or Novak Djokovic was ranked No.1. Should Djokovic miss Roland Garros this year, his ranking will risk falling outside of the top 5. If he follows his principles, opportunities to prove himself will become more scarce. Unfortunately, freedom of choice does not mean freedom from consequence. Djokovic understands this better than anyone else. He says if the vaccine affects his performance by even “half a percent,” he’ll feel it. For this reason, he’s willing to sit out of major tournaments to stay in top form.
What happens next?
As anti-climactic as it may feel, Daniil Medvedev is absolutely deserving of the No.1 spot. There’s no question that he has the skills needed for a No.1 player. He consistently makes top placements in major tournaments, holding 13 titles including being the most recent US Open champion and placing 2nd at the Australian Open for 2 years straight. The year has only begun, however, and anything can happen. Perhaps 2022 will be the year of Medvedev and he finds the confidence to win more Grand Slams. Or, Djokovic may find ways to take back his rank. No matter what happens next, there’ll be much excitement to look forward to. To stay updated on the latest tennis news, apparel, equipment, and more, be sure to subscribe to the Tennis Express blog for more amazing content!