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On top of the world

• Posted in Tennis • By JoeBaker

If there was something that was always held against Andy Murray when compared to Djokovic, Nadal and Federer it was that consistency sometimes alluded him. Such a claim is now void after the most incredible and consistent season in his illustrious career to date that culminated in Murray becoming the world number 1 for the very first time.

Irrespective of whether he remains world number 1 after the end of season ATP World Tour Finals, this has been a year to remember for Murray. His run to number 1 really was remarkable. At the start of June, Djokovic had a lead at the top of the rankings of over 8,000 points, almost double that of Murray. Even after winning his second Wimbledon title, Murray being number 1 before the end of the season seemed an unlikely possibility. Yet after reaching the Paris Masters final in November, which he would go on to win, Murray had overhauled his old rival. Beating Isner in that final was his 19th win in a row, with 17 of those coming within just 31 days. It was his 4th title on the trot and 7th on the tour this year. Factor in his Olympic Gold at Rio and his season reads 11 titles from 12 finals and a personal best 73 victories. He’s seen off opponents on every surface, indoors and outdoors. Take it back just little further to the way in which he inspired his country to win the Davis Cup this time last year before being named the 2015 Sports Personality of the Year and you realise what an impressive 12 months he has had. The momentum he built and the supreme confidence and quality he showed were admirable. The speed of his achievement is astonishing.

To understand the scale of Murray’s achievement we have to put it into context. He has just become the first British singles player to take the spot since computerised rankings first began way back in 1973. Many positions are admired in the world of sport but few are respected as much as being the male or female tennis number 1. Indeed, incredibly only 25 other male players have held the position in the last 43 years. His nemesis Djokovic had experienced a 122-week stint at the top, showing what a gigantean job Murray has been able to pull off by finally moving above him. What’s more, he has done it a relatively late stage in his career, which is realistically more down to the stunning consistency of the other members of the fabled big four over the preceding years. At 29 he is the second oldest man in history to make his debut at number one and hee now also holds the record for the longest time between first becoming number two and becoming number one, eventually ending at over 7 years.

All of these facts say as much about Murray’s mental fortitude as his technical prowess. His mental durability, perseverance and belief have been vital in enabling him to finally mount what often looked like an unsurmountable peak. To keep coming back, knocking on the door time and time again as first Federer, Nadal then Djokovic set up camp at the top of the rankings. He has competed brilliantly for many years during probably the toughest era the sport has ever seen. Murray is renowned on the tour for a remarkable attention to detail and work rate away from the court; displaying a focus and desire for improvement that has always defined the greatest athletes in sport. He has always strived to have the strongest team behind him. This has all helped him to deal with the many disappointments and near-misses that people can easily forget he has endured, including 8 Grand Slam Final losses. Even this year of all years he has fallen at the final hurdle at both the Australian and French Opens.

So what is next for Murray? Getting to the top is one thing, staying there is an altogether harder task. He may not even still be there after the end of season Tour Finals. Consolidating his position ahead of the rest at the season end is his first priority. Going forwards, he will be aware of the threat posed by a wounded Djokovic who has shown both physical and mental weaknesses at the back end of the season, as well as the talented collection of players such as Nishikori and Raonic who are only going to get better. Yet this really good be Murray’s time – he is in the form of his life and physically stronger than anyone else on tour. Most importantly, he is playing like a man who believes he belongs at the top. With Federer now 35, Nadal still struggling with injuries, Djokovic stuttering for the first time in years and the chasing pack not yet consistently good enough, why could Murray not dominate for the next few years as the world’s premier player? What’s more, after the Australian Open he has very few ranking points to defend until May.

No matter what the future now holds for Andy Murray, he will be forever spoken of as a world number one. There a few who come to mind who have deserved it more. The argument that Murray should be regarded as one of the finest athletes the United Kingdom has ever produced is becoming harder and harder to ignore. 

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