Eleven years ago, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic finished inside the top-three for the very first time, setting the stage for their dominance in the next decade, winning the majority of the biggest tennis titles and claiming the top-three year-end position in five consecutive seasons.
Between 2012-2017, Roger, Rafa and Novak had conquered the top-three spots only in 2014 but that all changed in 2018, with Nadal gaining an edge over Roger in the first part of the year and Novak, passing them both with an amazing run from June to wrap up the year as the top-ranked player for the fifth time in his career.
Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are 101 years old combined and this is by far the oldest year-end top-three group since the start of the ATP ranking in 1973, with all three players already turning at least 31. Over the course of the last 45 years, there have been only six players capable of wrapping up the season inside the top-three and it is incredible to see three of them achieving that in a single season! A year ago, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were there and now Novak Djokovic has joined the party as well to earn another ranking milestone besides being the oldest year-end no.
1 player in the history of the ATP rankings. Between 1973-2000, Jimmy Connors was the only player capable of capping the season inside the top-three after turning 31, achieving that in 1983 and 1984 to stand at the top of this special list.
In that first season, Jimmy claimed four ATP titles, including Queen's and US Open to finish behind John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. A year later, Connors lifted five titles to pass Lendl and finish second behind McEnroe, missing a chance to repeat that in 1985 as well, ending the season ranked 4th behind a teenager Mats Wilander.
For almost 20 years, it was impossible to see a 31-year-old player in the year-end top-three and we had to wait for Andre Agassi who had become the second player on our list when he finished third in 2001 at 31 years and eight months.
Andre was the Australian Open champion and he claimed the "Sunshine Double" at Indian Wells and Miami, earning enough points to stay far in front of Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the ranking list and join Lleyton Hewitt and Gustavo Kuerten in the top-three.
A year later, Agassi was one of the leading forces on the Tour again, securing the second place on the year-end ranking list after conquering three Masters 1000 titles, leaving 10 years younger Marat Safin 500 points behind him.
For almost 40 years (1973-2011), Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi were the only year-end top-three players at the age of 31 or more and it was Roger Federer who earned the place on the list in 2012, winning six ATP titles including Wimbledon and three Masters 1000 crowns to wrap up an amazing season only behind Novak Djokovic.
The Swiss was unable to repeat that in 2013 and it was David Ferrer who stepped in, edging Andy Murray by 10 points to finish third despite winning only two small titles. Ferrer was consistent during the entire season, winning 60 matches and losing no less than seven finals, including Roland Garros, Miami and Paris.
Federer bounced back in 2014 after five ATP titles overall and two Masters 1000 trophies, closing the season as the year-end no. 2 and becoming the first player to end the season in the top-three at the age of 33! Nothing changed in 2015 as well and Roger was among the best players in the world thanks to six ATP titles, raising the bar even higher and looking strong to extend his run in 2016 as well.
A knee injury had kept him off the court in the second part of that season and after four consecutive years there were no 31-year-old players in the top-three. 2017 was a historic season that saw an ultimate comeback from Federer and Nadal, finishing at the top of the standings to become the first pair who joined our list in the same season! Nadal and Federer are there in 2018 as well, backed by Novak Djokovic to form the oldest year-end Top 3 group.
At the age of 37, Roger is by far the oldest year-end top-three player since 1973, Nadal has become only the fourth player with two year-end top-three finishes after turning 31 and there is Djokovic as the newest addition on our list, returning to his best and looking good to add his name a few more times in the years to come.
It will be tough to topple Roger's record for both Nadal and Djokovic and it should be interesting to see who will remain in the top-three in 2019 and whether our list will get any bigger, just like it has expanded almost every season since 2012. The oldest year-end top-three players since the start of ranking in 1973:
1983 - Jimmy Connors (31y 3m)
1984 - Jimmy Connors (32y 3m)
2001 - Andre Agassi (31y 8m)
2002 - Andre Agassi (32y 8m)
2012 - Roger Federer (31y 4m)
2013 - David Ferrer (31y 8m)
2014 - Roger Federer (33y 4m)
2015 - Roger Federer (34y 4m)
2017 - Roger Federer (36y 4m)
2017 - Rafael Nadal (31y 6m)
2018 - Roger Federer (37y 4m)
2018 - Rafael Nadal (32y 6m)
2018 - Novak Djokovic (31y 7m)