Rafael Nadal clinches year-end No. 1 ranking

Nadal, after winning the US Open this past summer. (USATSI)

Nine months removed from a knee injury that threatened to derail his career, Rafael Nadal clinched the year-end world No. 1 ranking on Wednesday by beating Stanislas Wawrinka 7-6, 7-6, advancing to the semifinals of the ATP World Tour Finals.

Nadal’s victory – his 73rd of the year – assures him of becoming the first player to hold, lose and regain the top rank, two different times. Roger Federer and Ivan Lendl each did it once. Typically, the best player has his run and is then overtaken, never to return to the top spot again. Nadal is your exception, holding the mantle both in 2008 and in 2010.

“It was important for me to finish No. 1 because I think I deserved it,” he said on Wednesday. He added, “It’s one of the best things that I did in my career, to come back to the No. 1 after three seasons. That’s very difficult in our sport and after a very important injury.” 

The Spaniard capped his year with 10 titles, two Grand Slams, and an absurd 73-6 record. The only real blemish came at the All England Club this past summer, when Nadal lost in stunning fashion to Steve Darcis at Wimbledon.

Aside from that trip-up, Nadal’s comeback has been nothing short of remarkable. After missing seven months to a balky left knee – which didn’t completely go away throughout this past season, either – he returned in February ranked No. 5. His biggest triumphs came at the French Open (where he won his-record eighth title there) and at the US Open, where Nadal defeated then-No. 1 Novak Djokovic to secure his 13th Grand Slam title.

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