Djokovic virtually assures year-end top ranking for sixth time

VIENNA (AFP) – Novak Djokovic virtually ensured equalling Pete Sampras’s record of ending the year as world number one for the sixth time yesterday when he reached the Vienna ATP quarter-finals.

Djokovic defeated Croatia’s Borna Coric 7-6 (13/11), 6-3 and will secure the year-end top spot as long as Rafael Nadal does not take an unlikely wild card into the Sofia event next month.

If the 33-year-old Serb wins the Vienna title last Sunday, he will make sure of the landmark regardless of whether or not Nadal plays in Bulgaria.

Djokovic, who now has 39 wins and just two defeats in 2020, has been the top-ranked player at the end of a season five times – in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015 and 2018.

He shared that mark with career rivals Roger Federer and Nadal.

Sampras achieved the feat six years in succession between 1993 and 1998.

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic during the Erste Bank Open ATP tennis tournament in Vienna. PHOTO: AFP

“Sampras was my childhood idol growing up and it will be amazing to tie his record by being the year-end world number one six times,” Djokovic said last Sunday.

Djokovic also has another target – beating Federer’s all-time best of 310 weeks spent on top of the rankings.

He is currently enjoying his 292nd week in total as world number one. Should he stay in pole position, he will pass Federer in early March 2021. Djokovic, a 17-time Grand Slam title winner, is playing his first tournament since his straight sets loss to Nadal in the Roland Garros final over two weeks ago.

He is seeking a fifth title of the year and next faces either Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz or Italian lucky loser Lorenzo Sonego.

“It was very tiring and very challenging,” said Djokovic after his fourth win in four meetings with Coric, the world number 24.

“Borna is a great fighter. He’s a very good friend of mine. Off the court we’ve known each other for quite a long time.”

Djokovic came through having saved four set points in the opener.

“He has kind of a similar style of tennis as I do. From the backhand corner he’s very solid and is trying to create points with his forehand.

“He was serving very well, especially in the first set. It was very difficult for me to return his serve.”

Elsewhere, third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas opened his Vienna campaign with a 6-7 (3/7), 6-3, 6-4 win over Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.

The reigning ATP Finals champion will face Grigor Dimitrov for a place in the last eight.

Russian fourth seed Daniil Medvedev also progressed with a 6-3, 6-1 win over Jason Jung.