Djokovic Regains No. 1 But His Climb in the Ratings Isn't Over

On Monday, Novak Djokovic will regain the World No. 1 ranking, climbing from outside the top 20 at the start of the year. Djokovic’s comeback has been the major story this week. In this post, I look at his rise in terms of his match-by-match Elo rating and put it in context of his best season performances in 2011 and 2015.

Djokovic’s climb back to No. 1 has taken two Grand Slam titles, a 47-10 win record, and a total improvement in his Elo rating from the start of the year of +265. As impressive as that ratings climb is, it isn’t unprecedented, especially when you consider players who are just coming onto the scene and have the most room to improve over a short period of time.

If we limit past improvements to players that are in a more similar situation as Djokovic was at the start of this year—players who have been playing professionally for several years (>3 years) and who began the season at an already high rating (1800+)—then the list becomes much shorter. Only 4 other men in Open Era history have had a similar rise at an already mature stage of their career.

Thomas Muster’s 1988 takes the first spot, a year when he rose from outside of the top 50 to a ranking of 16, gaining nearly 300 Elo rating points along the way. Pat Rafter takes the 4th spot for his 1997 season performance that saw him climb from outside of the top 60 to a ranking of World No. 3. Rafter’s journey that year was the closest to Djokovic’s as he also had a title win at the US Open.

Player Year Highest Improvement in Rating
Thomas Muster 1988 298
Paradorn Srichaphan 2002 296
Joachim Johansson 2005 276
Patrick Rafter 1997 276
Novak Djokovic 2018 265*

Djokovic’s +265 improvement gets an asterisk because there is still time for him to go even further based on his results at this week’s Paris Masters and the Tour Finals just around the corner.

When we put Djokovic’s 2018 rise in relation to his two best seasons, 2011 and 2015, we see that his current season high is still far from his peak potential. In fact, Djokovic is only now at a level that was on par with his strength at the start of 2011 (at a rating of ~2100).

So, even while Djokovic is back at No. 1, if his peak performance is still an achievable goal, he could be even stronger than his current rating suggests. That has to be a frightening prospect for the field but an exciting one for tennis fans looking towards the 2019 season.