He has won one-third of Novak Djokovic’s Grand Slam titles, and perhaps only half of his career prize money. He is a year older and was once on the verge of being his era’s greatest underachiever – the best no. 2. But the second half of 2016 has seen the ultimate rise of Andy Murray, now World no. 1, only the 26th male tennis player, the first Brit, to end a calendar year at the top. He won “only” one major this year – Wimbledon – as compared to Novak’s two, but finds himself finishing the year ahead of the Serb, thanks to his criminally consistent performances in between those majors.
At the O2 in London on a chilly Sunday night, the Scotsman achieved perhaps the greatest high of his career – despite winning two Olympic gold medals, two Wimbledon singles titles and a Davis Cup. He finished as the year-end no. 1 – dethroning Djokovic in style, by defeating him in the final of the season-ending World Tour Finals. It came down to a direct shootout, and one suspects Murray would have had it no other way. They were unbeaten in the tournament till the final. This was their fifth match-up of the year, and Murray had won only one of their meetings, back in the Rome final in May. He had lost the French Open final and Australian Open final to the Serb, after which they failed to meet in any final till the end of the season, partly due to Djokovic’s dip in form and inability to reach the finals of all the tournaments Murray won.
He earned it, in every way possible, especially after his dream appeared to have faded away during a marathon 3-hour struggle against Milos Raonic in the semifinal, when he was match point down in the third-set tiebreak. He was a point away from losing his hold over top spot and letting Djokovic finish the season as no. 1 for the fifth time, and the third consecutive year in a row. Moreover, one could almost sense Novak licking his lips at the prospect of facing a tired Raonic in the final, gunning for his sixth season-ending Masters, to equal Roger Federer’s record. He had just destroyed Kei Nishikori in the semis, losing just two games, looking back to his best and primed to win back his perch against the run of play. This would be the perfect tonic for an average second half of the season, where he reached the US Open final, and only had a Toronto Masters title to show for his efforts. This would be perfect for the beginning of 2017, where, despite Murray’s best efforts, Djokovic would still start the year on top.
But he was destroyed and outplayed by a “weary” Murray in straight sets, outgunned from the baseline by perhaps the best returner ever in the men’s game. And to top it off, this was Murray’s first final at the O2, and his first World Tour Finals title ever.
35 – number of matches played between Djokovic and Murray
11 – number of matches won by Murray; 2 of them in 2016
7 – number of Grand Slam finals they’ve faced each other in; 2 won by Murray (US Open 2012, Wimbledon 2013)
7 – number of titles won by Djokovic in 2016 – his “worst” in three years
9 – number of ATP titles won by Murray in 2016; a career-best effort
9 – number of matches lost by, both, Murray and Djokovic in the 2016 season. Murray won 78 (the only player with over 75 wins), and Djokovic 65.
18 – number of ATP finals they have faced each other in
8 – number won by Murray, whose finals’ record against Djokovic is way better than it seems (5-5 in Masters’ finals)
1 – number of indoor hard-court matches won by Murray, out of 5. London was his first.
24 – number of consecutive wins in a row for Murray this year, unbeaten since the US Open fourth round (to Kei Nishikori) in September.
5 – number of consecutive singles titles he has won since then.
2 – number of matches he has lost since the French Open Final in June.
4 – the number of top-5 players he defeated this week alone at London.
15 – number of match wins against top-10 opponents this year.
19 – number of clay-court victories for Murray this year; a career-best again, also defeating Rafael Nadal (Madrid) for the first time on this surface ever.
1 – Doubles ranking of Andy’s brother Jamie Murray at the end of 2016; the first time both brothers have finished the year on top.