Chronologic year-end ATP Rankings : How the greatest battled
The chronologic graph below shows the evolution of the year-end ATP Rankings for our list of 10 greatest tennis players since 1973, the year the ATP introduced its rankings system. Since the new ranking system wasn't introduced before August 1973, the first complete year with ATP Rankings would be 1974.
We already developed a page with the Top 10 for the year-end ATP Rankings since 1973, so below we'll focus on:
- the pageant of kings and challengers, which is one of the most interesting ways to analyse tennis history,
- the six 'lesser gods' that reached No. 1 on the year-end ATP Rankings from 1974 to 2014.
Two of these lesser gods were the year-end No. 1 twice, thus performing better than two of our 10 greatest players. However, when looking closer these players seem to have been lucky to fall in between the primes of two generations of the real greatest (more details below).
Kings and challengers
The graph above shines a light on the changing of the guards :
- Connors had to face a 4 year younger Borg, from his first No. 1 year-end ranking in 1974 to 1981, Borg's retirement. Connors collected less Grand Slam titles than Borg, nevertheless he was year-end ATP No. 1 for five consecutive times.
- Borg dethroned Connors in 1979 but on top of his older rival, started to feel pressure from a 3 year younger McEnroe, from 1978 to 1981. One of the best since 1973 as to Grand Slam titles, Borg only twice was the year-end ATP No. 1.
- McEnroe overcame Connors in 1980 and Borg in 1981, but had to continue to deal with the older challenger, Connors, until 1985 when both Americans started to fade. Moreover, from his first year-end ATP No. 1, McEnroe was challenged by Lendl, who was only 1 year younger... a heavy double challenge. Nevertheless, McEnroe's year-end No. 1 spot remained untouched for 4 consecutive years.
- before Lendl dethroned McEnroe, he had his hands full with an 8 years older Connors who revived after Borg's retirement. When Lendl became year-end No. 1 in 1985, a four year younger challenger had already arrived on the scene : Wilander, who dethroned him in 1988.
- Lendl, however, returned to No. 1 in 1989, to become the first player to reclaim the year-end No. 1 and tie McEnroe's 4 year-end titles. Wilander's reign started fading alarmingly fast and Lendl was already 30 years when Edberg rose to the occasion in 1990 (cfr. infra).
- Agassi reached No. 3 on the year-end ATP Rankings in 1988, aged only 18 years....too young to put a constant pressure on Edberg. Moreover, McEnroe and Lendl were making a comeback in 1989, Becker, still only 22 at that time, was not a small threat either. Competition at the end of the 80's was rather heavy, leaving Agassi with only one year-end No. 1 title.
- In 1990 already, a 1 year younger challenger joined the debates : Sampras, who would collect a record 6 consecutive year-end No.1 positions. Too much to handle for Agassi who has one of the most irregular carreers. He even suffered a Top 10 exit before he finally conquerred the year-end No. 1 spot in 1999. At that time however, he was already 29 years old and new hordes of challengers were attacking his kingdom (cfr infra).
- Federer emerged from these challengers in 2004 and from 2005 on was seriously challenged by a 5 year younger Nadal. He would remain on top of him until 2008. Federer reclaimed the top year-end ATP Ranking in 2009 and tied Connors' 5 year-end ATP No.1 position. Nadal would reclaim No. 1 in 2010, to cede it to Djokovic in 2011, 2012 & 2014. Djokovic and Nadal both collected three year-end No.1 trophies.
We'll try and publish asap detailled graphs for each rivalry, showing the other important challengers for each king.
The six lesser gods
From 1973 to 2014, only 8 years had a year-end No. 1 player that didn't make it to our Top 10 of greatest ATP players. Six players collected these 10 No. 1 spots on the year-end ATP Rankings :
- Nastase in 1973. At that time, already 27 years and the largest part of his career behind him. Too bad for him the ATP Rankings were not introduced a few years earlier.
- Edberg was the year-end No. 1 in 1990 and 1991,
- Courier in 1992,
- Kuerten in 2000,
- Hewitt in 2001 and 2002,
- Roddick in 2003,
Hewitt and Edberg performed better on this front than Wilander or Agassi. However, their reigns seem to be established only in between the primes of the very greatest players:
- Edberg reached No. 1 only when Lendl was already 30 years and before Sampras' & Agassi's prime. He was 6 years younger than Lendl and 5 years older than Sampras.
- Hewitt reached No. 1 when Sampras & Agassi were already in their thirties and before Federer's prime. He is only half a year older than Federer and took the lead in their Head to Heads between the age of 18 and 22 (winning 7 out of their 9 matches). Since 2004 however, when both players were 22, he only won 1 match of the 17 next encounters.
Arguably, Agassi and Wilander collected less year-end No. 1 positions mainly because they shared their prime with 2 of the greatest ever, Sampras and Lendl:
- Agassi was only 1 year older than Sampras. Imagine Connors and Borg being almost the same age. The only other icons that had just 1 year difference in age were McEnroe and Lendl.
- Wilander was 4 years younger than Lendl, but was already Top 5 at his 19th while Lendl reached his peak at his 22nd. As a consequence, both players' primes overlapped for a large part.
A massive thanx to my good friend PJ for delivering the stats on the year-end ATP Rankings!