The Scot will end 2016 as world number one after beating Novak Djokovic in London, in what was his 24th consecutive win.
It has only been two years since what was perhaps the lowest moment of Andy Murray’s career. After undergoing back surgery at the end of the 2013 tennis season, Murray struggled in 2014 to recapture the form that won him Wimbledon the previous year and for the first time since 2009, the Scot failed to reach a Grand Slam final. Murray still managed to qualify for the ATP World Tour finals in London however, but he would soon crash out at the group stage, his fate sealed by a 6-0, 6-1 defeat to Roger Federer. The humiliation lasted only 56 minutes and it was Murray’s worst defeat since 2007.
Murray finished that year outside of the top 10, his lowest ranking since 2008, but now, two years later, he finishes the tennis season as the world number one, definitively and unarguably the best player in the world after dismissing Novak Djokovic 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the ATP finals.
Symbolically, it is perhaps the biggest win of Murray’s career. He entered the World Tour finals ranked number one after a run of form and victories that saw him surpass Djokovic in the world rankings, winning four consecutive tournaments in Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna and Paris. Despite this, doubts remained over Murray’s status as world number one, largely because of the fact that Murray hadn’t faced Djokovic at any of those competitions as other players had knocked the Serb out before they had the chance to meet.
Murray also had, by his own admission, an awful record at the ATP World Tour finals. Before the start of this week he had never made it to the final and his overall record at the competition stood at played 22, won 11, lost 11. A measly win rate of 50%. The World Tour finals is though, by definition, an extremely difficult competition with the world’s top eight players facing each other across two groups of four. Unlike every other tournament on the tour it is a challenge from day one.
For Murray, this year was especially tough as he was handed a difficult draw in a group alongside Stan Wawrinka, the US Open champion, Kei Nishikori, who defeated Murray over five sets at the US Open and Marin Cilic, who had also beaten Murray at Cincinnati that year. Comparatively, Djokovic’s group of Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem only had the experience and prestige of one Grand Slam final between them.
Despite this, Murray advanced by winning all of his group games but it was far from plain sailing, his match against Nishikori for example, in which Murray came from a set down to win 6-7, 6-4, 6-4, broke the record for the longest ever match at the tour finals. Two days later Murray broke his own record when he again came from a set down to defeat Raonic 5-7, 7-6, 7-6 across three hours and 38 minutes in the semi-finals.
His victory over Raonic, his third this year in London after victories in the finals of Queens and Wimbledon, set up a dream final with Djokovic; the man who had defeated Murray in the finals of the Australian and French Open that year, the man who had won 13 of the pair’s last 15 meetings and the man who has ruled men’s tennis for the past six seasons.
But for all that, Murray was dominant. He came into the match as the world’s best player and from the first point he played like it. Djokovic wasn’t even given a sniff of a break as Murray clinched the first set. As Murray broke Djokovic in the first game of the second set, it became clear that the Serb was rattled, his unforced errors tally rising. The Scot then kept his cool to serve out for the Championship, becoming the first Briton to win the competition.
In a year that saw Murray win his second Wimbledon and his second Olympic Gold medal, the first player, male or female, in the history of tennis to do so, this feels like the most important. It signifies a change of mentality for a man who has spent most of his career in the shadows of some of the greatest players in the history of the sport in Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and, indeed, Djokovic. He now seems at ease with the idea that he deserves to be ranked above them all.
Unbelievable levels of hard work and determination have undoubtedly helped him reach the top, but so too this year the reappointment of Ivan Lendl as his head coach and the birth of Murray and Kim Sears’ first child Sophia Olivia, who was born in February. Murray himself has spoken about how becoming a father has given him a new perspective on not only life but his approach to tennis. For Murray, winning was once everything. Now it is perhaps less so, but yet he is now winning more than ever.
We can only speculate as to what will happen next. A second consecutive BBC Sport’s Personality of the Year seems likely and the clamour to herald Murray as Britain’s greatest ever sportsperson will rise again, a knighthood may even follow. More excitingly though, is imagining what Murray could achieve in 2017. The Australian Open in January, the tournament where Murray has been beaten in the final five times, will come first, surely he is due a victory there.
Until then, let us enjoy a man who is on top of the world. He’s not alone though. Instead he is joined by his older brother Jamie who will also end the year at number one in the doubles rankings after he, alongside playing partner Bruno Soares, made the semis. The two brothers from Dunblane side by side as the kings of tennis.