Novak Djokovic gained some consolation for missing out on a Grand Slam sweep this year when he was crowned season-ending world number one for a record seventh time on Saturday.
The 34-year-old Serbian had jointly held the record of six with Pete Sampras but took sole possession when he beat Poland’s Hubert Hurkacz 3-6, 6-0, 7-6 (7/5) to reach the Paris Masters final.
Djokovic had taken a seven-week break after his dreams of a Grand Slam were dashed by Daniil Medvedev in the US Open final in September.
However, the 20-time Grand Slam champion said on Friday the main reason for his return this week was to seal the number one spot and break the record.
“It is a dream for me as Pete was my idol when I was a young boy,” said Djokovic.
“To arrive at this moment is not just my achievement but my team’s. It is wonderful to be in this position.
“I am very proud to finish number one and what a match to do it in. It was so tight right to the last point but I am a very happy man now obviously.
“I am overwhelmed with all the beautiful positive emotions.”
Djokovic — who broke Roger Federer’s record of weeks at number one earlier this year — said it was hard to rank his records.
“Being historically No. 1 ranked player in the world is probably the paramount achievement of our sport,” said Djokovic.
“It’s difficult for me to understand the magnitude of these achievements, you know, not just for myself but for the sport while I’m still an active player.
“Probably when I retire, I’ll be able to reflect on that a little bit more and appreciate it a little bit more.”
– ‘Very, very intense’ –
Djokovic can take some satisfaction that he denied Medvedev the world number one spot, though the Russian admitted his chances of toppling the Serbian were slim.
The two will meet in Sunday’s final after title holder Medvedev crushed the man he beat in last year’s final Alexander Zverev 6-2, 6-2 in the second semi-final.
It was a rude awakening for Zverev who had come to Paris seeking his sixth title of the year after winning in Vienna last Sunday.
Djokovic and Medvedev — who calls the Serbian ‘his friend’ — said he hoped he would be able to put up a better performance than in the US Open final.
“Last time we played, he outplayed me,” said Djokovic.
“I outplayed him in the finals of the Australian Open. It was quite straightforward matches, both of them.
“Hopefully I’ll be able to turn the tables around this time, learning from that experience in New York.
“But he is back to his best and seems to be in the groove.”
Hurkacz has had a breakout season, winning the Miami Masters, reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals and on Friday qualifying for the season-ending ATP Finals.
The 24-year-old Pole could have capped it all by beating Djokovic but admitted the Serbian just had that edge when it came to big moments.
“Novak is such a great player, great competitor,” said Hurkacz.
“He’s just super solid in the very important moments.
“His return is really amazing. So just puts a lot of pressure on you. I always have to fight for every single point. It’s very, very intense.”