• Serb ends the season at six months after injury-hit campaign • Stepanova confirms she is competing at Rio and will compete in other Olympics
Novak Djokovic secured the year-end world No. 1 spot for the seventh time in a row, surpassing his fellow countryman Pete Sampras’s record of six years and three months to join the coveted prize list on Sunday.
Djokovic sealed the top ranking from Rafael Nadal after the Spaniard’s defeat by David Goffin in a closely-fought final of the Miami Open.
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“The way I played for six months last year – with all the injuries, and especially towards the end of the year – it’s not something you dream about,” said Djokovic. “It’s not something you deserve. It’s something you keep working hard for.”
Sampras won the world No. 1 spot seven times between 1992 and 2003 and it had been the Spaniard’s aim to get there at a grand slam before retiring in 2006.
Serbian Djokovic, whose campaign ended at six months following elbow surgery in February, has won eight grand slam titles.
However, the 30-year-old admitted he would need to return to his best to reach his former level after a traumatic six months with an elbow problem, which forced him to quit Wimbledon early, limp out of the US Open last September and miss his next match in Indian Wells in March.
“I’ve won eight grand slams in the past. To break that record, I’ll have to start the season from scratch again,” said Djokovic, who lost to Roger Federer in the Australian Open final.
“After six months off, you need some time to get used to everything. How I move, how I get used to this muscle again. So from that perspective, I will be very much looking forward to the beginning of the season with everything behind me.
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“I’m going to give it my best. I’m going to try everything to get back to that [winning] level.”
Russia’s Maria Sharapova is the highest-ranked player outside the top 10 after losing the top ranking to Federer in February after her 15-month doping ban.
Stepanova, the Russian player at the centre of the Russian doping scandal who returned to competition last week after a one-year ban, confirmed on Saturday she will compete at the Rio Olympics.
“I will return to competitions in June at the French Open, Wimbledon and Rio,” Stepanova said, Reuters reported.