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Novak Djokovic surpasses Steffi Graf for the record of number of weeks at No. 1

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Tennis legend Steffi Graf is handing off one of her crowns to another legend. With 22 Grand Slam titles, Graf dominated tennis in the '80s and '90s, and she was ranked as the world's No. 1 player for a staggering 377 weeks.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

That record's been broken by Novak Djokovic, a legend in his own right, who, together with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, dominated men's tennis over the last couple of decades.

ANA MITRIC: Djokovic has progressed from breaking the men's record to breaking the women's record and then the overall record. And this has all happened relatively quickly.

MARTÍNEZ: That's writer and tennis fan Ana Mitric. She's been following Djokovic and his progress.

MITRIC: He attributes a lot of his success and longevity to the care he takes with his body and that he's had better luck with injuries than either of his two biggest rivals.

FADEL: In 2022, Djokovic was blocked from competing at the Australian Open because he refused to be vaccinated for COVID. He was detained, then deported. Not playing cost him the No. 1 ranking.

MARTÍNEZ: But he returned to Melbourne earlier this year to win his 22nd Grand Slam title and reclaim the top spot. Djokovic has now been ranked No. 1 for more than seven years of his career, a feat that he says on social media has him feeling both blessed and grateful. Here's Ana Mitric again.

MITRIC: It's pretty incredible that another history-making player has come along not only so soon after Federer's dominance, but also while both he and Rafael Nadal, who's, you know, the other member of the Big Three, were still active players.

FADEL: Novak Djokovic will try to keep setting records this season at the French Open, Wimbledon and possibly at the U.S. Open this summer. Djokovic says he's asked for permission to play in the U.S. without a COVID vaccination. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.