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Rafael Nadal: "Finishing No. 1 Means Many Things To Me"

Spaniard values ending the year in the top spot for the fourth time in his career

"At 31 years old, you're the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 in the Emirates ATP Rankings."

"Ever?"

"Yes -- in history."

"Really?"

After beating Hyeon Chung 7-5, 6-3 in the second round of the Rolex Paris Masters to ensure he finished the year as World No. 1 for the fourth time in his career, Rafael Nadal was in awe to learn that he is the oldest player to achieve that feat since the Emirates ATP Rankings were established in 1973.

"It was an amazing year, just amazing," said Nadal, who also finished atop the Emirates ATP Rankings in 2008, 2010 and 2013. "I never would have imagined I would end up as No. 1 at the end of the season again. Finishing the year as No. 1 means a lot to me. It wasn't one of my goals going into the season — far from it. After returning from a difficult period in my career and battling through injuries, this wasn't on my mind."

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Nadal's climb back to the top would have been hard for anyone to predict. In January, when he returned to the ATP World Tour at the Brisbane International presented by Suncorp after closing his 2016 following the Asian swing, looking to recover from his left wrist injury, Nadal began the year ranked No. 9. By August, the Spaniard was ranked No. 1 leading into the US Open and had clinched his 10th French Open title. After claiming the US Open crown and a successful campaign in Asia, in which he won the China Open and was runner-up to Roger Federer at the Shanghai Rolex Masters, finishing the year at the top suddenly seemed realistic.

"When the opportunity (to end the year at No.1) presented itself, it became my goal," Nadal said. "The Asian swing was very important for me, because the points I gained during that time were valuable."

Returning to the top spot at a certain point in the year and actually ending the year at No. 1 are two separate accolades, according to Nadal, and the Spaniard feels it's extra special to close out the year as the best player in the world.

"Being No. 1 for a part of the year is great, that's obvious, but ending the year No. 1 is even better," Nadal said. "The two things are beautiful and important, but without a doubt there's a big difference, if you ask me. In the end, this is like a league and when you finish a year as No. 1, it means you were the best player for that season."

Nadal is also aware of what it means to be the oldest player to end the year on top, considering he's had to battle back from numerous injuries throughout his career.

"It means many things," the 16-time Grand Slam champion said. "It means that I've had a very long and successful career. It means that I have maintained my form. It means that I have kept the desire to play, despite the adversities that come with injuries. It means a lot after all I've been through. When I receive the trophy in London [for ending the year at No. 1], it will be an exciting time for me because I thought it would not happen again."

Ending 2017 as No. 1 means Nadal achieves another milestone in tennis history: More than nine years have passed since the first time (2008) and the most recent time he accomplished the feat (2017) — an incredible testament to his longevity.

"The gap between the first time I finished No. 1 and now is very wide," Nadal said. "Therefore, it also means a lot to be able to continue playing at this level for so long."

Nadal has now set his sights on two more goals to close out the year: to claim this week's Rolex Paris Masters and the Nitto ATP Finals — two titles that have so far eluded him.

"Now I can try to do my best to end the season without thinking about it," said Nadal. "Playing without that tension loosens me up to fulfill other objectives. The season is not over. I'm in Paris, possibly the most important city of my career. I want to give it my best and close out the year with even more success."