Being No. 1 - by Craig Gabriel (@crosscourt1)
No.1 in the world! It is pretty special to be able to say that. To know you are the best of the best. To get there takes incredible dedication and guile. Getting there is one thing but then to stay there takes a whole different focus because you now have a target on your back. You are no longer the hunter but instead you are hunted; some players relish that position, some could find it a burden.
However, once a player has achieved the Everest of tennis and the climb has been conquered, what more is there really to do?
No doubt it is great to maintain that position but if it is lost it is not the end of the world. Ivan Lendl once said to me, and I’m paraphrasing, it is a case of been there, done that. Historians are going to remember a player for the majors and titles won, not specifically for being No.1 unless a record has been achieved.
Stefanie Graf, who held the record in women’s tennis for most weeks at No.1 (377, including 186 consecutive) was of the same view.
Any individual obviously would say they would love to be No.1 but it should not necessarily be the primary aim. The primary aim should be winning titles because when you perform, the ranking just takes care of itself. Ivan made that very clear.
Caroline Wozniacki who has not won a major so far but has been world No.1 says “when you're No. 1 in the world, you're a favourite every time you play”, and that every time you attend a post-match media conference after a lost match it's a disappointment regardless of who the opponent is because everyone is lower ranked.
She said: “I remember one time I was playing Vera Zvonareva, who was the No. 2 in the world at the time. I had lost a tough, tough match against her, and I came in and the first question is, ‘Caroline, you must be extremely disappointed since you lost to someone lower ranked than you.’”
“I was like, ‘Hold on. I'm No. 1; she's No. 2. I'm more disappointed about losing the match and not because she's lower ranked.’ Clearly everyone at that point is lower ranked. So I think the expectations are extremely high and it's harder to stay there for a prolonged period of time than it is to get there, which is really tough in itself. (But) I think it's fun, because you need to improve even more every week. You need to improve every year. Everyone is trying to find a way to beat you.”
Roger Federer, meanwhile, has the perspective that tougher draws will be evident if you are not ranked No. 1 or No. 2. Certainly that would be the case if outside the top eight because for seeding purposes the business end of an event is from the quarterfinals on. However, Federer added that the rankings are less important to himself, “(Rafa) Nadal and maybe other guys as well in the future.”
“I agree. It's not the priority. Health needs to be the priority. That's why if I were to get there again I have to really win a lot of big tournaments, and I know how hard that is. I tried to do it for the last five years,” Federer explained.
“As long as I'm healthy, I feel like I can play good tennis, enjoy myself, I can beat - hopefully - some of the best players in the world, or most of them, and win tournaments as well.
“So for me the priority is actually win tournaments at this point in my career. The ranking is very secondary.”
Venus Williams reigned as World No.1 for eleven weeks and also made the point that while it was great to be No.1, her focus was more on the majors and tournament wins. But because she has not held the top spot since 7 July, 2002, getting back there would certainly be very special for her. She will be remembered more for the seven majors she won rather than topping the rankings.
“I never played enough to like be contentious for No. 1 for a while there, even when I was -- you know, back in the day,” Venus said. “I will like to be No. 1. Nobody is out there saying, Cool, No. 11. Actually 11 is better than 1. Nobody is saying, Cool, No. 2 or No. 19. Everybody is thinking, Well, No.1 is a little better. So, yes, I would like to do that again.”
By comparison her sister Serena will certainly be lauded for equalling Graf’s record for consecutive weeks at No.1 but Serena is likely to be recognised more significantly for the number of majors she ends up capturing … currently 23.
Nadal enjoyed his time at No.1 and would have treasured being there longer than the 141 weeks he had. His first tome was in 2008 and it was an “important feeling” considering he had been close for so long but he had “somebody in front that was playing unbelievable” (Federer).
“It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of the mentally and physically fight to be there, so was special feeling,” Nadal said. “And then 2010 when I came back obvious was important year for me, but be back to No. 1 in 2013 probably was the year that I am more proud.”
So if you had the option of winning majors and tournaments or being world No.1, what would be your choice?