The numbers are undeniable.
On Monday, when the Emirates ATP Rankings released, Great Britain's Andy Murray became the first-ever male tennis player from the region to be ranked number one in the world, and the 26th player overall since the rankings were introduced. When Milos Raonic pulled out of the Paris Masters' semifinal, it meant that Murray would start this week as the official best player in the world. After Novak Djokovic’s loss in the quarterfinal against Marin Cilic, all Murray needed to do was reach the final – which he did, and even won it, against the big-serving John Isner in three tiring sets, sealing perhaps the most memorable week of tennis in his life. This was his eighth title of the year, his fifth since June, his third Masters of the year, and his 14th Masters title overall (43rd career title).
He has, of course, had to endure a lot of heartbreak, reaching 11 Grand Slam finals over his career, only to be beaten in eight of them by the combined peak forces of Roger Federer (3) and Djokovic (5).
The Scotsman has won three majors (Wimbledon 2013 and 2016, US Open 2013), two Olympic Men’s Singles gold medals, one Davis Cup – and yet, one can't help but feel that this ascent to number two the top of the world rankings is perhaps his greatest achievement of a glittering career.
To put things into perspective – Murray became the second oldest male singles player ever to become number one. Well into his thirtieth year, he also now holds the record for the maximum time between becoming number two (August 2009) and number one.
He has been on the professional circuit for more than 11 years now, and many consider him unfortunate to play in the same era as perhaps three of the greatest men’s tennis players: Roger Federer (Murray debuted in 2005, with Roger at his peak), Rafael Nadal (Nadal was number one in 2009 when Murray became number two) and Novak Djokovic (who Murray dethroned this week at the BNP Paribas Masters). But as he himself has admitted time and again, playing against them and in the same era has raised his game to standards he wouldn’t have perhaps achieved if they weren’t around. And then to reach the top the moment Djokovic loses his season focus a little is indicative of Murray’s immense mental fortitude, longevity and self-belief under (once again) Ivan Lendl. As soon as Lendl took over this year after Amelie Mauresmo's period with him in June, Murray has been remarkable in chugging along and gritting out victories right when Djokovic began falling away after a stellar start to 2016.
Another misleading stat is the number of weeks Murray has spent as number two (76). This is by no means an indication of the fact that, more than these weeks at two (not a record at all, as compared to Nadal’s 160-odd), Murray has been number two to the ‘Big 3’ for most of his career. He has spent a lot of weeks at number three and four, too, and to his credit, has never fallen below five in seven years near the top.
This year, he has added a clay-court streak as well as phenomenal consistency in the second half of the year, which has ended Djokovic’s consecutive-weeks-at-1 streak at 122 (223 overall). However, Murray will have to battle it out with Djokovic at the season-ending Barclay’s ATP World Tour Finals in London to finish the year on top – and to deny Djokovic doing so for a third consecutive year (and a fifth overall). Murray exited in the group stages last year, and has never won this title – the only piece of major silverware missing from his cabinet. He had never won the Paris Masters before this week either, but did it just when he needed to the most – earning him the respect and admiration of countless Djokovic, Nadal and Federer fans from around the globe, all of who may have at some point mocked Murray’s inability to switch gears and conquer top spot in probably the toughest decade in the history of the sport. Even Andy Roddick had managed to grab top spot for a bit before Federer took over in 2003 – and nobody except him, Nadal and Djokovic has held the ranking ever since.
This year, however, has brought with it one of the most inspiring stories in tennis – a tennis player who has challenged notions of invincibility, a semi-journeyman who has broken all sorts of barriers not only as a British player but as an athlete who has never given up, especially when he was more than double the points-tally behind after the French Open this year. This has to be one of the most remarkable gaps closed, and few would bet against him finishing the year extending his 17-match winning streak.
26 – Murray became only the 26th male player to achieve top spot.
29 – Murray’s age, making him the second-oldest ever to do so.
43 – number of titles he won before reaching number one.
8 – number of titles this year alone, a career-best for him.
8 – number of Grand Slam finals he has lost.
7 – number of years since he first reached number two.
7 – number of stints he has had at number two.
7 – number of players who have never been no. 1 after being number two.
9 – number of consecutive years he has reached the World Tour Finals.
11 – number of finals Murray has reached in his last 12 tournaments.