Written by Staff Writer
The history of the world’s greatest tennis players is deeply ingrained in the rich tradition of men’s professional tennis.
Without them, the sport wouldn’t have been the same.
Novak Djokovic has been playing since he was a boy; Rafael Nadal since he was a teenager.
And they have been great players.
Several decades ago, the two were close; we’ll get to that in a minute. Then they joined forces, playing together for Barcelona and the world number one spot, and now they’re world number one for separate periods.
The only time Nadal has beaten Djokovic head-to-head is when he was a young man. And then in his most recent match, Nadal showed who was still king.
The journey into the upper echelons of sport and the top ranking is a monumental one, especially for the top two players on a tennis tour. It takes years of steadily improving and an infallible technique; the blend of humility and arrogance.
As well as Nadal and Djokovic, legends of the sport include Fred Perry, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.
The sport’s top rankings were first in 1969 with Connors, then in the later 1970s with John McEnroe, before moving to the present format of unassailable records and an annual tournament with the number one player winning, a 1992 form guide points out.
This is the glory time of a sportsman’s career and as time passes and players can become more physically demanding, and less available for training, this time is key.
Men’s World Number 1 Ranking 1972 4 Bernhard Langer 1973 5 Pete Sampras 1974 6 Ivan Lendl 1975 7 Rod Laver 1976 8 Bjorn Borg 1977 9 John McEnroe 1978 10 Ivan Lendl 1979 11 Bjorn Borg 1980 12 John McEnroe 1981 13 Jimmy Connors 1982 14 Rod Laver 1983 15 Roger Federer 1984 16 Bjorn Borg 1985 17 Pete Sampras 1986 18 Bjorn Borg 1987 19 Ivan Lendl 1988 20 John McEnroe 1989 21 Pete Sampras 1990 22 Ivan Lendl 1991 23 John McEnroe 1992 24 Bjorn Borg 1993 25 John McEnroe 1994 26 John McEnroe 1995 27 Andre Agassi 1996 28 Bjorn Borg 1997 29 Ivan Lendl 1998 30 Andre Agassi 1999 31 Pete Sampras 2000 32 Bjorn Borg 2001 33 Pete Sampras 2002 34 Andre Agassi 2003 35 Roger Federer 2004 36 Roger Federer 2005 37 Bjorn Borg 2006 38 Chris Evert 1987 40 Bjorn Borg 1987 41 John McEnroe 1984 42 Chris Evert 1987 43 Bjorn Borg 1990 44 Bjorn Borg 1991 45 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 2013 46 Bjorn Borg 2013 47 Rafael Nadal 2014 48 Novak Djokovic 2016 49 Rafael Nadal 2016 50 Novak Djokovic 2017
“It is quite interesting that these guys are able to keep their form all the way through from around the age of 21 all the way to (the age of) 30,” Bill Draper, a tennis specialist at McKinsey Global Institute, tells CNN.
Draper says that although the older players have appeared in more important matches and tournaments — which may reflect that they are better prepared for the rigors of a more professional circuit — the transition from boyhood to manhood is more complex than when the sporting roles were handed down from father to son.
The “feeling that you’ve conquered everything is basically missing. So they take the time between the age of 15 and 20 to learn their trade.”
The time between childhood and professional tennis includes training, competition, self-development, team and family work and growth.
In theory, the transition from a boyhood to adult body will be easier. In reality, it is often much more challenging.
From Djokovic, we know that playing a specific game with a specific body type is a positive guide for many things, including body type.
“Playing tennis with just this particular style and style of shots, I feel like, helps me with the mental conditioning and fitness. I feel like that’s the key to winning,” Djokovic told BBC Sport.
Djokovic has enjoyed four-time French Open wins and five-times Grand Slam titles, but Federer and Nadal also made five-Grand Slam finals and Nadal won 12 Wimbledon titles.
Djokovic was made a knight in the 2013 New Year honours list and became a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 2008, while Nadal was made a senator of Spain for 2014.
Both Djokovic and Nadal won the French Open titles in 2017, beating their countrymen.
“I know they are a very difficult opponent to play against,” said Djokovic about Nadal. “I just need to avoid them