Welcome to Tennis Elbow, the column that looks back on the week that was in the world of tennis. This week, Charles Blouin-Gascon recaps the 2016 BNP Paribas Masters.
So remember a week ago in our preview for this Paris Masters 1000 event when we mentioned that the stakes were high because the remaining two spots for the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals would be decided?
Remember that? Well, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem sure did book their tickets to London—but it turns out that was just the appetizer. Indeed, the main course was the battle for World No. 1.
On Friday in the quarterfinals, Novak Djokovic left the door open by losing for the first time in 14 matches against Cilic. From there, the mission was easy and straightforward for Andy Murray: overtake Tomas Berdych, then either Jo-Wilfried Tsonga or Milos Raonic in the semifinals, and take the crown away from Djokovic.
Well not only did he do all that, Murray went ahead and won the damn tournament. Leave no doubt when you barge in through the door, he seemed to think. As a result, the Scot now has 11,185 points, a mere 405 ahead of Djokovic.
Today, Andy Murray could become the world No.1
We still remember when he was world No.312, lighting up #Wimbledon on his debut in 2005… pic.twitter.com/bv0yF9hBu1
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) November 5, 2016
That guarantees that the battle for the year-end No. 1, and probably the title of Player of the Year for that matter, will continue through London between the two.
For Djokovic, this is a likely slap to the face. It’s not so much that his level of play dipped all that much of course; he still only has 8 losses this year, and 7 titles including two Grand Slam titles and another major final. For many, that would be the highlight of a career. But Djokovic has accustomed us to consistent superlative work and the truth is that he hasn’t been at his peak since completing the career Grand Slam in May. Consider that since winning Roland Garros, he’s gone 18-5 and has “only” one title, at the Rogers Cup.
No one’s ever had to wait longer or fight through a tougher generation to become No. 1 and in the end, Murray makes No. 1 with a walkover
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) November 5, 2016
Coincidentally, the month of May is basically when Murray went supernova. After the Miami Masters, Murray has both 1) played often and 2) lost very rarely. In amassing all seven of his titles in the season, including a Grand Slam and an Olympic gold medal, the 29-year-old has won 64 times against only five defeats.
Andy Murray at 2016 Slams, Masters, Olympics and WTFs:
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 6, 2016
While he’s currently riding a 20-match winning streak after defeating John Isner in the Paris final, it would be too simple to say he’s only now playing great. Because Murray has been on a tear for about six months now, with another winning streak of 18 matches as well as a 28-2 run.
Look at it this way.
In January, Angelique Kerber trailed #1 Serena Williams by 6,355 points.
In June, Andy Murray trailed #1 Novak Djokovic by 8,035 points.
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) November 5, 2016
To put it bluntly: despite going 45-3 since losing the French Open final, Murray has had to wait until the second-to-last week of the 2016 season to finally overtake Djokovic. He becomes the first man from the United Kingdom to be ranked No. 1, and the oldest first-timer in 32 years. The road, including 76 total weeks spent at No. 2, will have been quite long indeed.
Murray has worked his absolute butt off to become No. 1. What an effort. Now all big four have been No. 1. #murray #tennis
— Tennis Connected (@TennisConnected) November 5, 2016
From there, the battle will continue in London. If it does end up being Murray who ends the season as the World No. 1, the interesting thing to see will be whether we’ve now started the Murray era of dominance and how long that might last. Such is tennis that he’d have to start a run of excellence like Djokovic and Roger Federer have recently, but that might be hard to do at 29 years old—especially since his ascent was spearheaded by an unreal run in the latter half of 2016.
It’s official. On the ATP Web Site. Must be true pic.twitter.com/gwQJ6yRGu7
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) November 7, 2016
More probable is a likely stumble or two along the way, with Djokovic and Murray continuing to exchange time atop the rankings. If that’s the case, all tennis fans will be the real winners.
We have a new ???? in town. Congrats Sir @andy_murray
— Roger Federer (@rogerfederer) November 5, 2016
Follow Charles Blouin-Gascon on Twitter @RealCBG