“A clear sign that he is the greatest of all-time” – Sampras on Djokovic’s seven year-end No 1 finishes

In honor of Novak Djokovic’s seventh year-end No 1 ranking, Pete Sampras heaps the highest praise on Novak Djokovic in a rare interview with the ATP

Pete Sampras watching Novak Djokovic, 2019

After his straight-sets victory over Casper Ruud on Monday in Turin, Novak Djokovic was awarded his trophy for locking up the ATP’s year-end No 1 ranking for a ranking seventh time. The 20-time major champion had actually solidified this remarkable feat two weeks ago at the Paris Masters, but today, at the Nitto ATP Finals, as it has been six times before, was Djokovic’s time to appreciate the moment and pose for pictures with the trophy.

Djokovic himself didn’t dwell too much on the achievement, as he is dead set on trying to win the ATP Finals for a record sixth time this week in Turin (which would tie him with Roger Federer), but he did speak briefly about what it means to him to break his idol Pete Sampras’ record.

I do think what Novak’s done over the past 10 years, winning the majors, being consistent, finishing No 1 for seven years, to me it’s a clear sign that he is the greatest of all-time.”

— Pete Sampras, via ATPWorldTour.com

“Feels amazing, and obviously feels even better when you win a match and you get your hands on that trophy that I have been blessed to lift for seven times now in my career, one more than Pete Sampras, who was my childhood hero. He was the one that got me going with tennis,” Djokovic said.

“You know, the first time I watched a tennis match was – I have said this before – it was his Wimbledon finals, I think ’91 or ’92, and, you know, he always was an inspiration to me and kind of dreamt of being a Wimbledon champion and No. 1 in the world like he is. Kind of fast-forward to today, it’s amazing to be in this position. I’m very grateful.

“But at the same time, it’s very difficult for me to reflect fully on it while being active and while being in the tournament. But certainly it’s something that I am very much appreciating and not taking for granted.”

Sampras speaks – “He did it at a time where he dominated two of the all-time greats”

Pete Sampras hasn’t been been quoted very often since he left the ATP Tour two decades ago, but when he speaks he says what he means. In a feature article article on the ATP’s website, Sampras spoke with tennis journalist Greg Garber to break down the importance of Djokovic’s achievement.

If anybody knows about the importance of finishing a season as the ATP’s No 1 it would be Sampras – the American holds the record for most consecutive No 1 finishes, as he ran the table from 1993 to 1998 and ran himself ragged in ’98 when he did everything in his power to break the previous record of five consecutive year-end No 1 rankings, which was held by Jimmy Connors.

He told Garber that Djokovic will likely appreciate his achievement more and more as he gets older, and he may see it on par with his number of major titles.

“Seven years, for him, I’m sure he sees it as a bonus to all the majors that he’s won,” Sampras said. “But I think he’ll appreciate it more as he gets older. He did it at a time where he dominated two of the greats, in Roger and Rafa, and he handled the next generation of players very well – all at the same time.

“I do think what Novak’s done over the past 10 years, winning the majors, being consistent, finishing No. 1 for seven years, to me it’s a clear sign that he is the greatest of all time.”

Djokovic’s gift? He’s always looking to get better

Sampras says what impresses him the most about Djokovic is the Serb’s ability to perpetually improve. He’s a student of the game and never ceases the quest to maximise his potential in all facets of the game. It’s a work of spirit that takes more than talent or athleticism. It takes intelligence, foresight, planning and humility.

“What Novak’s done over the past 10 years – I could give you all the adjectives, I mean, I don’t know what to say,” Sampras told Garber. “He’s willing to change, he’s willing to learn about himself. He’s always looking to get better.

“I’ve been so impressed with his transformation. From being a very talented young athlete, mentally a little fragile, to being where he is today is just pretty cool to see it, just sitting and watching him from the couch.”

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