ATP RACE TO O2, LONDON: ANDY MURRAY

The Scavengers

Andy Murray has, not for the first time, moved up from Number 4 in the world to Number 3. The last time that happened, he had replaced Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to be ranked number 2 in early 2010. 

The only difference in 2011 is: He has now replaced THE Roger Federer. Shocked? Surprised? Don’t be. Federer has won only one title this year (at Doha, no more) and has failed to defend his four tournament wins of 2010. He was always going to slide soon, after being placed in the top 3 for 8 years. Yes, you heard that right- not once did he slip out of the top 3 since 2003. That was a long time ago, and it is a hell of a long time to be at the peak of any World Sport for. Not to say he isn’t playing well, but he is now lacking a mental edge that he held over his contemporaries for close to a decade. His game is NOT on the decline- though, his mind is. Why, even Rafael Nadal fell out of the top 3 when he was plagued by injuries at the end of 2009. It wasn’t such a catastrophic occurrence back then.

Into the sunset?

World Number 4. Roger Federer. Does it have any sort of ring to it? You can’t be blamed for wondering if Murray was half-responsible for Federer’s recent injury-induced rest period, after watching the predatory Brit’s instinctive and continuous 4-week winning spree. As soon as it was announced that Federer was not going to play for the whole of this month, Andy Murray may have changed his entire schedule- and fitted in the irrelevant Bangkok Open just before the China Open and the Shanghai Masters. On a clay-court-style-Nadalisque spree, the Brit has gone on to win all the 3 tournaments with some top-notch tennis, but hasn’t exactly beat the top players in the world. Sure, he beat Nadal- but the Spaniard is always jaded by the end of a long year. Djokovic is out for the month too, and all Murray had to do was look for those elusive ATP points- and hope to God that Roger doesn’t play the Shanghai Masters.

Wheels coming off?

It happened, and here we are. Murray did his bit, of course, and planned his ascent to perfection- even without playing Roger for the last 7 months. He dug deep and handed Nadal a bagel third-set at China, a turning point for Murray this year- by his mentally fragile standards. His only problem is that this ‘turning’ point and ‘tournament’ that spells his arrival for the year always comes after the US Open (the last Slam of the year)- when every other top player has called it a day on the circuit for the calendar year. This is when Murray wakes up, and decides to bully lesser players desperate for season-ending valuable points- to gain some ground on his ‘chilled’ rivals: the top 3. There is a scrap of sorts in 2011, for the final 3 places in the season-ending London Masters- Ferrer has been the fifth player to qualify, and now it is down to Tsonga, Berdych, Soderling and Monfils. Sadly for them, Murray has paced his year once again, in such a way that he peaks in off-season and ends the year with a bang- that often involves losing in the semi-finals at the season-ending Masters where ONLY the top 8 are allowed to play. That’s when his true game is exposed, because that is also when Nadal, Ferrer and Djokovic play for glory- not having won too many prestigious World Championships over the years.

The Djoke is on me!

If Andy Murray truly backs his opportunistic season up with a final top-dog proving performance at O2 early next month, it could only mean that the Brit may have mastered the hard courts a bit too late, much after the ship has passed. Nevertheless, he is ranked above Federer for the first time in ATP history, and could finish the year in the same position- with Roger’s chances looking a bit dim as far as his defense of the O2 title is concerned.
If Murray fails to win at O2, it’d be nothing new and he’d only be slamming home the relevance of the argument that suggests that most of his tournament victories have come when the pressure is off.

So far, it is Djokovic, Nadal, Murray, Federer and Ferrer- the 5 to have reached the ATP World Tour Finals.
Defending Champion- Roger Federer (4). Venue: O2 Arena, London. Nadal has never won this title. Neither has Murray.
One doesn’t see that changing anytime soon.

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