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Djokovic’s record-breaking feat atop the rankings invokes memories of his vow as a youngster to be the best

As he proclaimed when he was seven years old, Novak Djokovic became No 1 in the world. In fact, he has now been No 1 in the ATP rankings 378 times over.

Novak Djokovic Tennis – Australian Open – Melbourne Park, Melbourne, Australia – January 25, 2023 Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates winning his quarter final match against Russia’s Andrey Rublev (AI/Reuters/Panoramic)

When Novak Djokovic was only seven years old, he announced on air that he would eventually become the best player in the world.

Djokovic was interviewed in 1994 for the kids’ show, “Pazi, sveže obojeno” (“Careful, Wet Paint”). It was run by a crew of 10 child actors under the supervision of actress Ivana Despotović. In the show there was a segment dedicated to youth sports with a recap of results from all of the youth leagues, and a guest — usually a young, talented player — who represented one of the sports.

“Novak was already winning tournaments in categories above his age, so it was natural that the people from the production called him,” said Igor Bećirić, one of the show’s hosts.

During the show on which Djokovic was the guest, he was asked about his goal for the future.

“The goal for me is to be No 1,” he responded.

Well, Djokovic didn’t just become No 1 in the world. He stayed there…. And stayed there…. And stayed there some more. In fact, on March 8 of 2021 he broke Roger Federer’s record (310) for the most weeks atop the ATP rankings. On Monday — February 27 of 2023 — he surpassed Steffi Graf for the most weeks as No 1 man or woman. The 35-year-old Serb has now occupied the top spot for 378 weeks.

“I could not have imagined it at that point, to be honest,” Djokovic said on Sunday during his pre-tournament press conference at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. “I was dreaming as a kid to be Wimbledon champion, to be No 1 in the world. I achieved those dreams (in) 2011. After that, of course, I wanted more. I still want more achievements. Of course I’m driven by the goals. I’m as dedicated to the sport really as anybody else. I obviously know that it’s not handed to me, that I have to earn it.

“Of course, it’s surreal in a way to be that many weeks world No 1, 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. Of course I’m very proud of it.”

As Djokovic tries to extend his record to 379 weeks and beyond, he will look to pick up 500 points this week in Dubai. The 22-time Grand Slam champion lost in the quarterfinals last year to Jiri Vesely, so he has only 90 points to defend with a great opportunity to add to his haul and increase his lead at No 1.

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