MELBOURNE, January 23, 2016
It was a highly emotional Thursday evening in Melbourne when Lleyton Hewitt’s career has come to an end with his last match against David Ferrer in the second round of the Australian Open 2016 but “Rusty” will remain on the tour as Australia’s Davis Cup captain.
With Hewitt’s retirement from active tennis, only three former world number one players will remain on the circuit: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and current leader Novak Djokovic. Throughout the 43 years history of the ATP rankings, only 25 players climbed to the ultimate achievement of reaching the world number one spot.
Let’s have a look at the last match of 22 former number ones before they ended their career:
On 23 August 1973 Ilie Nastase became the first No. 1 in the history. The two time Grand Slam singles champion (US-Open 1972, French Open 1973) stayed at the top for 40 weeks. “It’s funny, but I learned I was No 1 on the same day that is Romania’s Independence Day. But I wasn’t able to celebrated because I was busy playing,” he told later.
Nastase played his last tournament at an ATP event in Toulouse in 1985. Yet, three years later at the age of 41, he returned to the courts participating at an ATP Challenger tournament in Dijon and lost 2-6, 6-7 to Kevin Noir.
John Newcombe, charismatic showman known for this physicality and unshakeable self-belief became the first Australian world No. 1 in 1974. The same year he spent eight weeks at the top, playing his last match in Las Vegas in 1981. He lost 3-6, 2-6 to Vitos Gerulaitis. He was 36 years old.
In 1974 Jimmy Connors began his 160-weeks streak in top spot. He was forced to surrender his top ranking nine times after he first hit No. 1. He continued to challenge for that honour until 1983 but remained a force long after that. At the age of 39, Connors reached the semi-finals of the US-Open 1991, losing to Jim Courier. Five years later he played his last match against Richey Reneberg, losing 2-6, 6-3, 1-6 in the opening round in Atlanta.
Bjorn Borg dominated the game in 1970s and became world No. 1 in 1977. Between 1978 and 1981, he was in every final at Roland Garros and Wimbledon. Borg won a grand total of six French Open titles and five consecutive Wimbledon finals. The Swede quit the game in 1981 not long after he turned 25. A brief comeback attempt in the early 1990s, still using his wooden racket, ended badly. Borg failed to gain a single victory. He came closest to getting a win at his last match, falling to world number 7 Alexander Volkov 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 in the first round in Moscow in 1993.
In March 1980, just a couple of weeks after his 21st birthday, John McEnroe took over No. 1. The left-handed New Yorker beat Jimmy Connors in the Memphis final to seal his rise to the top. Just a few days after his 35th birthday, McEnroe’s illustrious career has come to an end. In the first round of the 1994 ATP event in Rotterdam he lost to Magnus Gustafsson 2-6, 6-7.
The news of being world No. 1 reached Ivan Lendl while he was on a Davic Cup errand for Czechoslovakia in Paraguay in the first week of March 1983. Lendl, who captured 10 Grand Slam crowns, but never managend to win in Wimbledon, announced his retirement from tennis in December 1994 due to chronical back pain. In his last professional match against Bernd Karbacher in the second round of the US-Open he retired at 4-6, 6-7, 0-1.
Mats Wilander became the second Swede to hold the No. 1 ranking, following a dramatic five-set win over Lendl in the US-Open final in 1988. It was Wilander’s seventh and final major title. In 1996, he played only one Grand Slam tournament, losing in the second round of the French Open to Todd Martin. He retired from the tour after losing his final match to Martin Damm in Beijing in October.
In 1990 Stefan Edberg became the third Swede as No. 1 after winning the ATP Championships in Cincinnati. The six time Grand Slam champion had the chance to end his career by claiming another big title, but Sweden lost the 1996 Davis Cup final to France. Edberg lost his last match against Cedric Pioline 3-6, 4-6, 3-6.
14 years after he had rocketed to fame by claiming his first of three Wimbledon titles, Boris Becker retired from tennis at the All England Championships in 1999. The six time Grand Slam champion from Germany lost in the 4th round to Pat Rafter 3-6, 2-6, 3-6. He spent 12 weeks as world No. 1.
Jim Courier made his Grand Slam breakthrough at the 1991 French Open, clinching his first of four Grand Slam titles. In February 1992, the 21-year-old US-American, became the 10th player to rank No. 1 after he had opened his season with his first Australian Open triumph. He retired from the ATP World Tour in 2000 with a second round loss to Thomas Enqvist 7-6, 3-6, 4-6 in Miami.
Pete Sampras always had the mark of a No. 1 in the way he moved and played on the court and proved it when he reached the position in the spring of 1993. “I really felt I deserved it in some fashion because in the perception of a lot of people, I really was the No. 1,” Sampras told later. The US-American captured 14 majors throughout his phenomenal career but also managed to end it in style by claiming his last Grand Slam title. In the 2002 US-Open final, Sampras defeated Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. “Pistol Pete” did not compete in any tour events in the following 12 months, but he did not officially announce his retirement until August 2003, just prior to the US-Open. He chose not to defend his title there, but his retirement announcement was timed so that he could say farewell at a special ceremony organized for him in New York.
Eight time Grand Slam champion Andre Agassi took over No. 1 from Sampras in 1999 after the Las Vegas native outlasted Todd Martin in five sets to win his second US-Open title. Agassi had a poor start into the 2006 season, still recovering from an ankle injury, also suffering from back and leg pain. He withdrew from the Australian Open as well as the French Open, lost in the second round in Wimbledon and eventually played his final match in New York at the US-Open, losing 5-7, 7-6, 4-6, 5-7 to Benjamin Becker in the third round. Agassi received a four-minute standing ovation from the crowd after the match and delivered an emotional retirement speech.
Thomas Muster was one of the world’s leading clay court players in the 1990s, winning 40 of his 44 career titles on the surface, including Roland Garros in 1995. The left hander from Austria spent six weeks at No. 1 in 1996. He stopped playing after the French Open in 1999 but announced his comeback in June 2010 at the age of 42. Muster mainly played on the ATP Challenger Tour, gaining only two victories. He said goodbye to his home crowd at the ATP 250 event in Vienna in 2011, losing to fellow countryman Dominic Thiem but played his last match at the ATP Challenger in Salzburg three weeks later. Muster lost in the opening round to Dennis Bloemke 6-3, 2-6, 3-6.
Marcelo Rios is the only No. 1 to never win a Grand Slam title and the only No. 1 to hail from Chile. He spent six weeks on the top in 1998. During his banner season, when he finished runner-up to Petr Korda at the Australian Open, Rios won three ATP World Tour Masters 1000 titles at Indian Wells, Miami and Rome. He retired in 2004 after overtaken by a back injury. He played his last match at the ATP Challenger in San Luis Potosi, when he was forced to retire against Mariano Delfino during the second set.
Carlos Moya was the first Spaniard to become world No. 1 when he held the top spot for only two weeks in 1999 after a runner-up finish in Indian Wells. One year before he had captured the French Open title. In November 2010, he announced his retirement owing to a long-standing foot injury from which he failed to recover. His last match was at the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Madrid when he lost to Benjamin Becker 0-6, 2-6. He received a special ceremony at the O2 Arena in London during the 2010 ATP World Tour Finals.
Yevgeny Kafelnikov was known for both the quality and the quantity of his output during his career, three times playing more than 100 singles matches in a season. The 2000 Olympic gold medalist also won the Australian Open in 1999, the year he spent six weeks at No. 1. The Russian is also the last man to have won both the Men’s Singles and Doubles titles at the same Grand Slam tournament, which he did at the French Open in 1996. In 2003 Kafelnikov lost his last match against Mikhail Youzhny in the third round in St. Petersburg, losing 2-6, 2-6.
After winning the 1997 US-Open, Patrick Rafter was labelled a “One Slam Wonder” and responded the following year by winning back-to-back ATP World Tour Masters titles in Toronto and Cincinnati before defending his title at Flushing Meadows. The Australian just spent one week at No. 1 in 1999 and ended his career after Australia lost the Davis Cup Final 2001 to France. He managed to win his match 6-3, 7-6, 7-5 over Sebastien Grosjean.
Marat Safin was among the hardest ball strikers of his era and charismatic personality known for his dry wit. In 2000, the Russian stunned Pete Sampras in straight sets of the US-Open final and that year became, at that time, the youngest No. 1 in ATP history at 20 years and 9 months. He spent nine week at No. 1 and won the Australian Open 2005. On 11 November 2009, Safin’s career ended at the 2009 ATP Masters 1000 in Paris with a second-round defeat by reigning US-Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, 4–6, 7–5, 4–6, after which a special presentation ceremony was held on Centre Court at Bercy.
Gustavo Kuerten won the French Open three times (1997, 2000, 2001) and wanted to end his career at this special place. On May 2008, he played his last professional match on centre court in Paris in front of more than 15,000 spectators. He arrived on court wearing his ‘lucky’ uniform, the same blue & yellow one that he wore in 1997 when he won his first French Open tournament. Despite saving a match point against his opponent Paul-Henri Mathieu, “Guga” finally lost in three sets 6–3, 6–4, 6–2 — his result in the final of French Open in 1997. He was honoured after the match by the tournament organizers and by all the fans present for what he has achieved throughout his career.
Juan-Carlos Ferrero was one of the best clay-court players of his generation, winning Roland Garros in 2003 and three ATP Masters 1000s on this surface. But he also reached the final of the Tennis Masters Cup on indoor hard court in Shanghai in 2002 and the following season rose to No. 1 for eight weeks following a runner-up finish to Andy Roddick at the US-Open. The Spaniard retired from the game in 2012 after the Valencia Open. He lost to his friend Nicolas Almagro 5-7, 3-6. “This tournament is the best possible stage for me to retire. Because of injuries, I was not able to play a full season and it’s been a complicated year as I could see I didn’t have the same ambition after 14 years on the tour,” Ferrero told in 2012. One year later, he became the tournament director of the Valencia Open.
Andy Roddick became world No. 1 by beating Ferrero in the US-Open final in 2003. The man from Texas reached four other Grand Slam finals (Wimbledon 2004, 2005, 2009 and US-Open 2006). During the 2012 US-Open Roddick announced he would retire after the tournament. Following a fourth-round defeat by Juan Martin Del Potro, Roddick retired from the sport with the aim of focusing on his foundation, the Andy Roddick Foundation, in future years.
Lleyton Hewitt is the youngest male player ever ranked No. 1 at the age of 20. He captured two major titles, winning the 2001 US-Open and in Wimbledon in 2002. He won the Davis Cup with Australia in 1999 and 2003. In his 20th appearance at the 2016 Australian Open, he won his first round match against fellow Australian James Duckworth in straight sets. He then lost in the second round in three straight competitive sets to 8th seed David Ferrer, 2–6, 4–6, 4–6. Post-match he was remembered by players including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Andy Murray and Nick Kyrgios as a man who was at the top of the game for years, and continually displayed the fighting spirit that he became synonymous with.