Murray Closes in on World Number One

At the start of this year Andy Murray lost his fifth Australian Open final, on this occasion losing in straight sets to Novak Djokovic (a repeat result of the previous years’ final). At this point in time, with two grand slam wins under his belt and a vast array of other ATP titles, Murray had already proven his tennis pedigree and earned the right to be remembered as one of the great players in a golden patch of tennis history. However, one of tennis’ most prestigious accolades, the No 1 ATP ranking title seemed an awfully long way off for a man then ranked as the world No 2. The final loss against Djokovic left Murray just shy of 8000 points behind his Serbian rival, who had held the top spot since July 2014. This figure, however, is meaningless without a brief delve into the inner workings of the ATP ranking system. ATP ranking points are allocated depending on the type of tournament entered and the round reached by the player in that tournament. For example, the greatest prize on offer is the 2000 ranking points awarded for winning a grand slam. A players’ current ATP ranking score is then calculated by adding together the points collected from the previous four grand slams, eight ATP 1000 tournaments and then the best six results from the rest of the tournaments on offer.

For the first half of 2016, Djokovic maintained a consistently high ATP ranking score, which peaked following success in this year’s French Open in which he defeated Murray in yet another grand slam final to claim his first French Open title. Despite reaching two grand slam finals and winning an ATP 1000 title, Murray remained roughly 8000 points behind Djokovic who appeared to be able to produce consistently sublime tennis every time he set foot on the court.

At the start of the year, the No 1 ATP ranking title seemed an awfully long way off for Murray

Fast forward just four and a half months and it is now mathematically possible for Murray to surmount the unstoppable Serb within the next month. A question begs to be asked: from which hat has Murray pulled this miraculous ATP ranking point rabbit? The first reason for this previously unexpected situation is the form of Andy Murray since his loss in the French Open final. Murray followed up his final defeat at Roland Garros by overcoming Milos Raonic in the final of The Aegon Championships to claim The Queen’s Club title. Many players use the grass tournament at Queen’s as a dress rehearsal for Wimbledon; for Andy Murray this was the case, as in the Wimbledon final Murray found himself again on a grass court opposite Raonic. Murray once again defeated the Canadian to famously win his second Wimbledon title. Since Wimbledon, Murray has reached the final of the Western and Southern Open, won the China Open and, most recently, swept aside Roberto Bautista Agut to claim the Shanghai Rolex Masters title.

The second reason that the gap has closed between Murray and Djokovic is that Novak had an almost too successful second half of 2015. This statement sounds ridiculous at first but Djokovic reached the final of each and every 2015 tournament that he entered following the French Open, winning both grand slams (Wimbledon and U.S. Open) and walking away from only two of the others without the tournament title. Therefore, despite Djokovic winning the Rogers Cup and reaching the final of the US open, his early exit from Wimbledon and decision to not to enter a number of tournaments that he competed in during the previous season has meant that his ATP ranking score has (relatively) plummeted to 12,900 (as of the week commencing on the 16th of October). Meanwhile, Murray’s betterment of his previous year’s form has seen his ranking score rise to 10,485. Although this gap has closed significantly from the 8,000 points that it was at the start of 2016, Djokovic still has a 2,415 point lead on Murray. How is it that Murray can turn around this still sizeable lead in such a short space again?

Djokovic’s success at the end of 2015 means that he has lost ground in the ATP rankings in the second half of this year

It appears that Djokovic’s previous brilliance and Murray’s refusal to take a rest from tournament play may result in the Serbian being unseated from his current perch. Djokovic is not due to play until the BNP Paris Masters (a tournament that he won last year), whilst Murray has opted to compete in Vienna before Paris. If Murray were to win in both Vienna and Paris with Djokovic failing to reach the final in Paris then the gap would be cut to a mere 875 points. If the before-mentioned events were to take place (which given Murray’s current form is not a completely ridiculous outcome) then due to a quirk of the ATP ranking system Murray would become world No 1. The quirk I mention is that the points awarded from the previous year’s World Tour Finals are actually removed prior to the tournament kicking off in mid-November. As luck would have it, for Murray at least, Djokovic received 1,100 more points from last year’s World Tour Finals than Murray. Therefore, the removal of these points would put Murray on a higher ranking score than the current No. 1. For Murray to get to this situation, there are many ifs and buts that must fall into place, especially considering Murray has never won the Paris title and will surely have to start showing some signs of the formidable amount of tennis that he has played of late. Some may argue that even if Murray were to reach No 1 in the way described above it would be because of a technicality in the rules; however, I don’t think that would bother Andy in the slightest.