Roger Federer has broken so many records in his career that he probably doesn’t even know how many he holds. (before you ask, I don’t know the number either). But surpassing Pete Sampras with a 287th week at the top of the world rankings, as he did this week, was a phenomenal achievement, especially in an era when Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have made life very difficult for him – at least in the grand slams – in the past few years.
At 30, Federer showed he still has it in him to play great tennis on the biggest of stages and returning to No 1 is something few people really believed he was capable of doing. I wonder if even he might agree he thought it unlikely too. Overtaking his hero, Sampras, will have made the moment all the sweeter and surely the only record he can’t rob the American of is finishing the year ranked No 1 six times in a row (though if he manages it this year it will be his sixth time in all).
Now this is not for means of comparison in any way, but I thought it might be fun to look at the women’s game for the equivalent records. Only two women have topped the rankings for more weeks than Federer. Not surprisingly, they are two of the all-time greats in Steffi Graf and Martina Navratilova. Navratilova spent 332 weeks as No 1 – on nine occasions in all between 1978 and 1987. Graf was on top for a whopping 377 weeks in all, including 186 in a row. In all, the German was No 1 on 11 separate occasions spanning from 1987 to 1997.
There will be plenty of people who will argue that dominating the women’s game was a lot easier than staying on top in the men’s game but all those achievements were pretty spectacular in their own right, without need for comparisons. If Federer wins the Olympics and performs well at the US Open, he could well push his total up around the 300-mark. To put that in context, Nadal has spent 102 weeks on top and Djokovic 53.