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Djokovic talks of “surreal” moment as he passes Steffi Graf for most weeks at No 1

The Serb will begin this week as the No 1 for the 378th week, beating the record he shared with the legendary German

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

On Monday, Novak Djokovic is now ranked No 1 for a record 378th week, passing Steffi Graf, the legendary German who won 22 Grand Slam titles and dominated women’s tennis in the late 1980s and for much of the 1990s.

It’s a moment that Djokovic has known is coming; even though Carlos Alcaraz could have equalled him in points winning the Rio de Janeiro title in Rio on Sunday night. Alcaraz lost to Cameron Norrie, but Djokovic would have stayed on top ahead of the 19-year-old Spaniard either way thanks to better results in the four slams, ATP Finals and mandatory events.

It’s a special moment for a player who as a boy had dreams he has made come true in a glittering career.

“I could not have imagined it at that point, to be honest,” Djokovic said in Dubai on Sunday, talking about his childhood hopes. “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, that 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.”

Djokovic pain-free on return to tour

Djokovic is the No 1 seed this week in Dubai, his first event since his victory at the Australian Open, a record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title that was won despite a hamstring injury.

The 35-year-old said he was fully fit and raring to go this week.

“I had enough time in the gym, so to say, fitness-wise, built a good base. Had a couple of weeks of no tennis. Well, almost three weeks,” he told reporters in Dubai. “Last few days it’s really getting as much tennis practice points as possible to get myself back in a competitive shape in order to be able to compete in a high level.

“I haven’t felt any pain whatsoever out on the court for a week now. I’m getting closer to the hundred percent. Still not there in terms of the game itself, how I feel on the court. But the important thing is there is no pain. I don’t have a hindrance to the way I move on the court.

“After every injury, it takes a little bit of time for mechanisms to be balanced, so to say, for adjustments to be done on the court. It takes time for you to find again that groove of moving on the court effortlessly and not thinking about if something’s going to happen or not. I don’t have those thoughts.

“I just have to play more. I guess once you start playing matches, you’ll see how you feel going hundred percent.”

Djokovic begins against Tomas Machac, a Czech qualifier, in round one.

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