Road to year-end number 1 : How Andy Murray achieved the impossible

How Murray overcame the odds to become the World No. 1 over Novak Djokovic.

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With win over rival Novak Djokovic in the summit-clash of the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals at London, Andy Murray finishes the 2016 season as the World No. 1 and consolidates his position further atop the rankings.

It was an unprecedented final at the O2 arena where the winner of the final was set to become the year-end No. 1 and for the first time since the famous Gustavo Kuerten vs Andre Agassi final 16 years ago, the race to clinch the year-end showpiece was open till the very last match of the ATP season. Kuerten won that Lisbon final to finish the season as World No. 1 ahead of Marat Safin.

Murray, the oldest in four decades since John Newcombe to become the first-time world’s best in men’s professional tennis, ascended the throne of the game earlier this month when he was given a walk-over in the semi-final by Milos Raonic at the Paris Masters with the then long-standing numero uno Novak Djokovic bowing out of the tournament a round earlier. The Briton next overcame John Isner to clinch the title at the Paris indoors.

Top seeded at the London meet, Murray won all his three games in the round-robin – against tough competitors like Cilic, Nishikori and Wawrinka – before winning a semi-final marathon over Raonic to face a relatively less-challenged Serb in the final. To a fitting climax to his rejuvenated season, Murray overcame the final hurdle with relative ease – the scoreboard reading 6-3, 6-4 in his favour.

Considering the entire season, it was quite a bizarre for Murray to finish the year as No. 1 despite Djokovic winning more Grand Slams and on the backdrop of making a rare Grand Slam record at the French Open. A peculiar trivia here is that in 1989 too Ivan Lendl (Murray’s coach) finished the year at the top despite winning a Slam less than Boris Becker (Djokovic’ coach). But contrastingly, the Great Britain’s dream had won 9 titles as against 7 for Djokovic this year. Since his historic feat of winning four straight Grand Slams and thus completing his career Slam at Roland Garros, the No. 2 could, for the rest of the spell, win just one title at Toronto Masters before losing two important finals at the US Open and the Tour Finals last night. The Serb too bowed out early in many tournaments – in the third round at Wimbledon, in the semis and quarters at Shanghai and Paris Masters 1000 respectively – where he was defending the maximum ranking points as the defending champion.

In contrast, Murray had an excellent second half. With a couple of final defeats at the hand of Djokovic early this season at the Australian and French Open as well as Madrid Open, vintage Andy returned to the grasscourt winning at Queen’s followed by his Wimbledon victory – ending a three season Slam drought.

He followed it up with a gold at Rio Olympics – that directly gave little boost to his ranking with no ATP points associated with the quadrennial event. But that momentum certainly helped him in the long-run as later on, Murray went on to reach the finals at Cincinnati before falling at the quarters of the USO to Nishikori – the latter was his last loss for the season at individual tournaments. More specifically, the 3-Grand Slam winner is on a career-best unbeaten streak of 24 matches since losing to Juan Martin del Potro in Davis Cup semi-final in September. In this period, he has won 5 titles at China, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and London.

As late as on May 8, Murray trailed Djokovic by 9025 ranking points – which at that time looked a gap too huge to be covered. However, the Scot had other plans in his mind as he went 58-4 (as against Djokovic’ 33-6) for the rest of the season. With his brother Jamie too ending the season as World No. 1 in men’s doubles, the Murray brothers become the first to end the season at the top in both the disciplines. Now Andy Murray would resume the 2017 season as the top-ranked player and it looks likely that he would go into the Australian Open draw in January as the topseed.

Photo by Marianne Bevis

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