Novak Djokovic says breaking Steffi Graf’s record of 377 weeks at number one in the rankings on Monday is “surreal” and that he is proud to surpass one of the sport’s all-time greats.
The Serb will spend his 378th week at the top of men’s tennis competing in Dubai, where he will play his first tournament since capturing a 10th Australian Open crown and record-equalling 22nd Grand Slam title last month.
It’s the equivalent of more than seven calendar years at the top.
“I still want more achievements,” Djokovic told reporters in Dubai on Sunday. “I’m driven by the goals. I’m as dedicated to the sport really as anybody else.
“Of course, it’s surreal in a way to be that many weeks world number one, to match Steffi Graf, who is one of the all-time greats of our sport, both men and women. Just being amongst these legendary names is flattering. I’m very proud of it.”
Watch Tennis Live with beIN SPORTS on Kayo. Live Coverage of ATP + WTA Tour Tournaments including Every Finals Match. New to Kayo? Start your free trial now >
It’s a result few thought they would ever see as Boris Becker said he didn’t believe Graf’s record would ever be surpassed.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement,” Becker told Eurosport. “I never thought this record could be broken.
“As a fellow German I would have wished for Steffi Graf to be the all-time leader, but being a close friend of Novak as well, I am not too unhappy either.
“Novak is a fantastic guy and a great champion. Records are meant to be broken. Sooner or later all records will be broken, but this is one for the tennis history books.
“And guess what, it’s still counting. I think Novak will be number one for a few weeks more before somebody will take his crown.”
Former World No. 7 Barbara Schett said the result was “unbelievable”.
“I had so much respect for her because I played against her and I played in that era. I never thought that somebody would break her record. Now that has happened with Novak, which is phenomenal,” Schett said via Eurosport.
“When he won the Australian Open at the beginning of the year and he became the No. 1 in the world again, I was thinking ‘how is that possible?’
Undefeated in all 12 matches he has contested so far this season, Djokovic says he has been pain-free for the past week, having recovered from a muscle tear in his left hamstring he had sustained in Australia.
“I’m getting closer to a hundred per cent. Still not there in terms of the game itself, how I feel on the court. But the important thing is that there is no pain. I don’t have a hindrance to the way I move on the court,” declared the 35-year-old.
Djokovic will begin his Dubai campaign against Czech qualifier Tomas Machac on Tuesday, where the likes of Daniil Medvedev, Felix Auger-Aliassime and Andy Murray are also expected to take the court.
Last year, Dubai played host to Djokovic’s first event of the season after he had been deported from Australia over his vaccination status.
A five-time champion in Dubai, he was defeated in the quarter-finals by Jiri Vesely.
Murray, who is one week older than Djokovic and has been the Serb’s rival since their early teen years, is coming off a stunning week in Doha, where he battled through four three-setters before losing to Medvedev in the final.
It has been a theme for the British former world number one, who also put on heroic displays at the Australian Open last month.
“What is happening now this year with his match points saved in literally every match he plays, the amount of hours he spent on the court since the beginning of the year, particularly in Australia, is just something you must admire and say ‘chapeau’ because of everything he has gone through with his hip,” said Djokovic of Murray.