DUBAI (AFP) – Novak Djokovic (AFP, pic below) said breaking Steffi Graf’s record of 377 weeks at number one in the rankings is “surreal” and that he is proud to surpass one of the sport’s all-time greats.
The Serb will spend his 378th week at the top of men’s tennis competing in Dubai, where he will play his first tournament since capturing a 10th Australian Open crown and record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title last month.
“I still want more achievements,” Djokovic told reporters in Dubai yesterday.
“I’m driven by the goals. I’m as dedicated to the sport really as anybody else.
“Of course, it’s surreal in a way to be that many weeks world number one, to match Steffi Graf, who is one of the all-time greats of our sport, both men and women. Just being amongst these legendary names is flattering. I’m very proud of it.”
Undefeated in all 12 matches he has contested so far this season, Djokovic said he has been pain-free for the past week, having recovered from a muscle tear in his left hamstring he had sustained in Australia.
“I’m getting closer to 100 per cent. Still not there in terms of the game itself, how I feel on the court. But the important thing is that there is no pain. I don’t have a hindrance to the way I move on the court,” declared the 35-year-old.
Djokovic begins his Dubai campaign against Czech qualifier Tomas Machac today, where the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Andy Murray are also expected to take the court.
Last year, Dubai played host to Djokovic’s first event of the season after he had been deported from Australia over his vaccination status.
A five-time champion in Dubai, he was defeated in the quarter-finals by Jiri Vesely.
Murray, who is one week older than Djokovic and has been the Serb’s rival since their early teen years, is coming off a stunning week in Doha, where he battled through four three-setters before losing to Medvedev in the final.
It has been a theme for the British former world number one, who also put on heroic displays at the Australian Open last month.
“What is happening now this year with his match points saved in literally every match he plays, the amount of hours he spent on the court since the beginning of the year, particularly in Australia, is just something you must admire and say ‘chapeau’ because of everything he has gone through with his hip,” said Djokovic of Murray.
“You have to note that he has an artificial hip and he’s moving the way he does. He’s constantly looking to improve and to get back to the highest level, which it seems like he’s been doing. He’s just rising in the rankings. The level is better and better.
“I’m very happy for him because he’s a great guy, respects the sport, works very, very hard. So very committed, he deserves his success.”
Djokovic has also been paying attention to the recent exploits of Chinese players on the ATP tour.
There are two Chinese men ranked in the top 100 – Wu Yibing and Zhang Zhizhen – with teenager Shang Juncheng not far behind.
Djokovic said he always knew it was only a matter of time before China’s men made their way up the rankings the way Chinese women have on the WTA tour.
“I’m happy for China’s tennis. It’s important. It’s important that a country like China is doing well in men’s tennis, as well. I think for us globally, as part of tennis ecosystem, it’s great news,” he added.