The ATP ranking system was introduced in 1973, with Ilie Nastase as the first year-end no. 1 ahead of John Newcombe and Jimmy Connors. Over the next 46 years, there were 17 different players on the year-end ATP throne but only four since 2004, as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have stolen the thunder to dominate the men's tennis in the last 15 years.
Pete Sampras is the leader of the pack with six years at the top, finishing as the year-end number 1 between 1993-1998 to leave Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Jimmy Connors on five. Only seven players had managed to wrap up the season on the ATP throne more than twice and that honor has been reserved for the most notable names of the Open era.
Rafael Nadal was the year-end champion in 2017 and looked like the first pick in 2018 as well, spending the most of the weeks ranked as no. 1 before an injury forced him to skip the rest of the season after the US Open. Rafa struggled with a right knee, abdomen and right ankle injuries that allowed Novak Djokovic to catch him and finish the season as the world's leading player for the fifth time, the first since 2015.
Novak joined the exclusive list of players who have achieved this and, at the age of 31 years and seven months, he also stood as the oldest year-end no. 1 since the beginning of the ranking 46 years ago, a few weeks older than Nadal in 2017!
Eager to regain the throne and the record, Nadal was the player to beat in 2019, securing his fifth year-end no. 1 berth and retrieving the age record at 33 years and six months! The year-end no. 1 battle was up and running until the very last ATP event at the ATP Finals in London where both Nadal and Djokovic failed to pass the round-robin stage, with the Spaniard who defended the advantage over the Serb to enter the history books.
Between 1973-1989, only six players had ended as the year-end no. 1, including the dominant runs of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. The Americans did that at the age of 22 while Lendl managed to wrap up the season at the top when he was 29 years and nine months old, standing as the oldest player on the list until 2017 when Rafael Nadal passed him to become the first player who broke the magical number of 30.
After Stefan Edberg and Jim Courier who were at the top for three years, Pete Sampras had become the leader of the pack in 1993, notching six consecutive years as the year-end no. 1 to write history and pass Jimmy Connors who stayed on five.
In 1999, Andre Agassi overpowered the compatriot for the first end only year-end no. 1 season, just two months younger than Ivan Lendl ten years earlier. Lleyton Hewitt was the dominant figure in men's tennis in 2001 and 2002, standing as the youngest year-end no.
1 competitor in the history of the rankings at 20 years and ten months in 2001. Andy Roddick was another youngster who conquered the tennis world in 2003 before Roger Federer took charge in 2003, finishing as the leader of the pack in five of the next six seasons between the age of 23 and 28.
Rafael Nadal stole the honor in 2008, 2010 and 2013 while Novak Djokovic started his journey in 2011, eclipsing all the rivals in the following seasons to stand on four year-end number 1 finishes until 2015. Andy Murray was the one who ended Novak's run in 2016 with an exceptional finish of the year, becoming the third oldest year-end player behind Lendl and Agassi.
Nadal bounced back in 2017 after a couple of mediocre years to grab the throne for the first time since 2013, achieving the ultimate award at the age of 31 and continuing to fight with Novak Djokovic in 2018 and 2019 to push the boundaries and remain in front of the youngsters.
Age of the year-end no. 1 players since 1973 (the last Monday of the year):