Perhaps even halfway through the year, it may have seemed as though World No.1 Novak Djokovic was all but running away with the title for the sixth year in a row. The Serb added six Grand Slam titles to his kitty between 2014 – when he joined forces with former No. 1 Boris Becker – and now.
This year, Djokovic added what has been perhaps his most elusive title to his kitty, winning the French Open with a well-fought win over Andy Murray. But perhaps right after that Grand Slam win at Roland Garros, Djokovic’s form has appeared to flag significantly.
Murray, on the other hand, has been perhaps the very personification of consistency all year long. Winning his third Grand Slam title this year at Wimbledon, the Scot has been a strong, constant presence on the ATP circuit, winning titles on tour across surfaces and proving his mettle.
Since bringing on Czech ace Ivan Lendl after he parted ways with French Grand Slam winner Amelie Mauresmo earlier this year, Murray’s career appears to have gone from strength to strength. The Scot has credited Lendl, long known for being unflappable and stolid, and the player makes a perfect foil to Murray’s own fiery, angry nature.
There is no doubt that the champion Scot has gone from strength to strength in his career, and this year significantly reeled in his gap to Novak Djokovic – so much so that it is not a mathematical impossiblity for him to become World No. 1 by the end of the year.
Where are they now?
Djokovic, as of October 2016, stands at 12,900 points to Murray’s 10, 485 – a 2,415 point deficit.
Now, let us look at the events in the months leading up to the year-end that the pair might choose to participate in:
First up is the Swiss Indoors in Basel, which commences on the 24th of October; neither Murray nor Djokovic will be participating in the ATP500 tournament, which negates the possiblity of points for that event.
Next up is the Erste Bank Open in Vienna, Austria at the end of the month, the last ATP World Tour event before the Paris Masters. Assuming Murray plays the Erste Bank Open and wins, with 500 points, while Djokovic is absent from proceedings in the time leading up to the Paris Masters, that reduces Murray’s gap by 500 points – leaving him at a 1945 point deficit.
That leaves the Paris Masters. ATP Masters events offer 1000 points, which means if Murray wins that event, he would be at 11,985, significantly lowering his gap. But this may not be realistic given that the Paris Masters have been Djokovic’s stronghold and he has historically been strong towards the end of the tennis season – he is the defending champion in Paris and at the ATP World Tour Finals in London – for the past three and four years consecutively, respectively.
Should Murray win the Paris Masters title, and Djokovic loses his 2015 World Tour Finals points from 2015 – 1500 points, as the undisputed champion at that event, Murray would ascend to World No. 1.
But it may not be that simple, especially given Djokovic’s track record at these events. Despite experiencing a lull in his career, Djokovic is still the strongest player on the circuit and looks set to retain the year-end No.1 rank yet again. It may not even be fair to say that Djokovic is slipping in his physical form, but more that the Serb’s self-described ‘private issues’ have been plaguing him significantly.
In an interview, Murray said he would “ (I) need to put in consistently good performances, and Novak consistently bad ones.” While Murray’s positive consistency cannot be doubted, it is unlikely that Djokovic will fail to fire on every single occasion.
When can Murray realistically become No. 1?
Murray’s consistency could well see him become No. 1 next year. Djokovic is defending top points at Indian Wells and Miami in 2017, where he won this year, while Murray did not do as well with a couple of early exits. Should he be able to maintain his form until then, Murray should be able to grab No. 1. But to do that, the Scot will also need to close out 2016 – and begin 2017 – in good form.
Should he be able to seize the top rank, Murray would become Great Britain’s first singles No. 1 in the Open Era; three-time Wimbledon winner Fred Perry was formerly ranked at the top – and was also the last British man before Andy Murray to win the title at Wimbledon.
Great Britain has had more luck in the doubles, with Jamie Murray becoming the top-ranked doubles player after a purple patch with Brazilian partner Bruno Soares. The older Murray brother is currently at fourth in the doubles rankings.
Murray has this year credited both marriage (to his partner of a decade, Kim Sears) and the birth of the pair’s child as being beneficial to his career. The Scot has also made perhaps crucial coaching changes and strategic decisions on participation that have all but minimized chances of injury this year.
Although it does not seem as likely that he will capture the year-end World No. 1 title in 2016, he could well win the title early in the 2017 season.