Rafael Nadal has become the oldest male player to finish the year as the World No.1 after guaranteeing he will top the rankings for the fourth time in his decorated career.
The 31-year-old Nadal assured himself the No.1 ranking by beating Hyeon Chung 7-5, 6-3 in the second round of the Paris Masters.
He becomes the first player to finish number one four times in non-consecutive years since the ATP rankings were introduced in 1973, while the nine-year gap between his first (2008) and most recent No.1 year is another record.
The 16-time major singles winner had not finished the year at the top since 2013, with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray doing so after that.
“One year ago, for sure I never dreamed about being number one again at the end of the season,” said Nadal, who missed large parts of 2016 because of a wrist injury. It has been an amazing year.”
Nadal’s comeback from injury, loss of form and confidence, has been remarkable.
He reached three major singles finals this year, losing to Roger Federer at the Australian Open and winning a 10th French Open title before clinching the US Open for the third time.
“It was impossible for me to think about coming back from a tough period without playing, and with so many injuries in the last couple of years,” Nadal said.
Nadal said becoming the oldest season-ending number one was testimony to his relentless determination.
“It’s about the passion for what you are doing. It’s about the mentality of waking up every morning with the right motivation to go on court and improve something,” he said.
“The passion to improve something and practice every day with the right attitude to try to make that happen. Not everybody is able to do it.”
The only downside to his remarkable season has been always losing to Federer, who leads the ATP Tour with seven titles this year.
Federer has beaten Nadal in four consecutive matches and the 19-time major singles champion was in outside contention for the number one ranking before pulling out of Paris to focus on the season-ending ATP Finals in London next week.
Nadal was not at his best against the 21-year-old Chung, but was rarely tested.
The Spaniard, who is tied for a record 30 Masters titles with Djokovic and has never won the tournament in Paris.
He will next face Pablo Cuevas of Uruguay.