In early October, and on his way to victory in Shanghai, Andy Murray dismissed the possibility of replacing Novak Djokovic at the top of the rankings before the year was out. “I’d have to win pretty much every match between now and the end of the year, and Novak would have to win hardly any. I want to try and get there, but
I don’t think doing that by the end of this year is that realistic.” Although improbable, it was not impossible, as Murray finished the year with five consecutive titles and a 24 match unbeaten streak to topple his greatest rival as the World Number One. It was a fitting end to what has been a stellar year for the Brit, enjoying his best clay court season to date before winning his second Wimbledon title and backing it up with gold in Rio.
Djokovic had reigned at the top of the rankings for 122 weeks prior to being overtaken after Murray’s triumph in Paris in early November. Before losing to Murray in Rome early May, Djokovic had enjoyed a stunning start to the season, losing just two matches all year. Indeed, he was over 9000 points clear of the Brit, who was down in third and once again appeared to be unable to beat the imperious Serb. However, buoyed by a much-improved performance on clay, his least favourite surface, Murray arrived in home conditions full of confidence. A perfect grass court season at Queen’s and Wimbledon, coupled with Djokovic’s early exit at SW17, saw the gap cut down to 5000 points.
Yet it looked like Murray’s heroics were going to catch up for him as he began to show signs of fatigue. After his special week winning Gold as he led Team GB in Rio, he was in Cincinnati the very next day to begin his US Open preparations. While he may have made the final, the schedule inevitably caught up with him at the final major of the year as he went out in the quarter-finals after five gruelling sets with Kei Nishikori. Another five-set defeat followed a week later in the Davis Cup as Murray, beginning to show signs of injury, could not perform any further heroics for his team against Del Potro. At this point of the season, the Brit was still 5000 points behind Djokovic, with it looking like the best of his season was firmly behind him.
However, a resurgent Murray returned two weeks later in China and, coupled with Djokovic struggling for fitness and confidence, began his remarkable run that saw him do the unthinkable. Murray’s route to the top via victories in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, and Paris was belittled by some as having come against lesser opponents; he was certainly helped by injuries to Federer and Nadal that ended their season’s early. However the Scot cannot be blamed for Djokovic’s inability to reach the final in either Shanghai or Paris, and come the ATP Tour Finals he certainly put these accusations to bed. Murray beat all five of the Top 6 in the space of the week, cementing himself as the best player in the world after a six month period which saw him play the greatest tennis of his career.
how long he can stay above the rest
Looking ahead to 2017, the question now for Andy Murray is how long he can stay above the rest at the top of the rankings. This starts at the Australian Open and the first major of the year, one where he has made the final five times but has not yet tasted success. Four of these defeats have been to Djokovic himself who already has six Australian Open triumphs to his name, so this represents a huge chance for Murray to not only put some more points between him and his rival, but to land a big psychological blow for the year ahead.
Indeed, more opportunities will arise for Murray to stretch out ahead in the early months of the season as attention turns to tournaments in Indian Wells and Miami. The Scot will be defending just 90 points combined after two disastrous showings in 2016, whereas Djokovic will have 2000 points needing to be protected as he arrives at both as the defending champion. Of course, the 2017 season will not be a simply shootout between Murray and Djokovic, with the likes of Raonic and Wawrinka sure to be making their own attempts at the top of the rankings. However, if Murray can start the year in anything like the same kind of form as he finished this season, he is well set for a long stint as the world’s best tennis player.