In the last 15 years (from February 2004), only four players have been ranked at the top of the ATP rankings, with all of them having to work hard to get there and stay in front of their biggest rivals. We know how consistent were Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic during their reigns and what effort it took from Andy Murray to pass Novak in the second part of 2016 to join them on the exclusive list.
It wasn't always the case, though, and a clear example is Yevgeny Kafelnikov who became the 16th player who sat on the ATP throne on this day in 1999. Yevgeny won the Australian Open in January (conquering Rotterdam as well) and it was a perfectly normal thing to see a Grand Slam champion as the world no.
1, only with one big catch in that story since he lost the last seven matches played in the ATP tournaments! Something like that is unthinkable today and the Russian managed to achieve the feat after a very slow start from the best player from the previous decade Pete Sampras who missed the Australian Open and competing in just four tournaments before May, winning only seven matches.
Carlos Moya was the third pretender for the throne and he took the top spot after reaching the final at Indian Wells, heading to Miami as the world no. 1 and staying there for two weeks. Moya was unable to deliver steady results in the following weeks as well and Kafelnikov found himself at the top of men's tennis despite the worst streak in the ATP tournaments of his career!
After winning the title in Rotterdam, Yevgeny was beaten in the quarters of London by Thomas Johansson and suffered an early exit at Indian Wells and Miami to Gustavo Kuerten and Vincent Spadea. Kafelnikov did score two Davis Cup wins against Germany in Frankfurt on an indoor carpet although he couldn't catch a break when the clay season started, dropping all four matches he played in April against the rivals ranked outside the top-40.
Andrei Pavel toppled him in Estoril in three sets before Franco Squillari served an early exit in Barcelona too. The worst was yet to come, though, with the 20-year-old Ivan Ljubicic demolishing him in Monte Carlo in just 44 minutes, followed by Richard Fromberg who completed the worst possible month for the Russian after knocking him out in Prague.
Despite this terrible streak, Kafelnikov found himself world no. 1 on Monday after Prague, moving just 15 points clear of Pete Sampras (3382-3367) and staying there for six weeks before the American restored the order in June.
Kafelnikov would win seven more titles by the end of a career, including an Olympic gold medal in Sydney, never getting another chance to be ranked above all the others. He finished the 1999 season ranked second and stayed in the top-10 until October 2002 when he started to fade away from the big scene, ending his career at St. Petersburg in October 2003.