Grand Slam champion. Davis Cup champion. World No. 1.
Two pieces remained missing from Andy Murray’s already illustrious tennis resume. He added both of them in one fell swoop on Sunday evening in London.
Murray captured his first-ever title at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and has finished a year ranked No. 1 for the first time in his career thanks to a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Novak Djokovic. The Scot got off to a roaring start before briefly putting the home crowd through a roller-coaster of emotions on his way to triumphing in one hour and 42 minutes.
This marked the first time in ATP Tour history that the year-end No. 1 ranking all came down to the top two players in the world in the final match of the season.
For a while it looked like the suspense would be taken right out of it. Despite playing for just one hour and six minutes in his Saturday semifinal against Kei Nishikori whereas Murray needed a grueling three hours and 38 minutes to outlast Milos Raonic, Djokovic came out the far more sluggish of the two competitors. The four-time defending champion sprayed errors in all directions and had to save two break points at 2-3 to stay on serve in the early stages of the match. Djokovic’s uncharacteristic inconsistency caught up with him at 3-4 when he netted a forehand on break point. Murray served out the set in routine fashion one game later, fittingly finishing it with the benefit of another Djokovic mistake.
The top seed wasted no time extending his lead right away in set two. Djokovic fought off two break points in his opening service game but ended up netting a backhand on Murray’s fourth chance. It appeared to be all but over when the Serb dropped serve to 15 at 1-3.
Murray, though, may have known that crossing the finish line may not be so easy even with a seemingly insurmountable advantage in hand. After all, against Raonic he twice failed to serve it out late in the third set and ended up having to save one match point to prevail 11-9 in a third-set tiebreaker.
In this one, the three-time major champion started to crack 4-1. He was broken easily for the first time all evening before watching Djokovic hold at love to pull within 3-4. The world No. 2 sent the fans into a frenzy when he put his opponent in a 0-15 hole and had designs of getting all the way back on serve from two breaks down. Murray steadied the ship, however, and took care of his next four service points while getting the best of several long rallies.
Additional drama ensued with Murray serving for the championship at 5-4. Djokovic came up with two of his best points of the whole contest down match points, twice staying alive with forehand winners. But it the end a final return error of the forehand side of Djokovic gave Murray the the title.
“I think the last few months (may have been a factor today) because I’ve won a lot of matches and he’s not been playing his best,” Murray noted. “Maybe in the important moments today I was just a little bit more solid, maybe had that extra little bit of confidence, which in the past when we played each other maybe he’s had. Maybe that was a bit of the difference, I think.”
“It just wasn’t my day,” lamented Djokovic, who recorded 30 unforced errors. “On the other hand, credit to Andy for being mentally tough and playing the right shots, making me play extra shots in every rally. He definitely deserved to win.”
When asked about the motivation to regain the No. 1 spot in 2016, Djokovic responded, “I’m not thinking about it at all at the moment. We should all let Andy enjoy this a little bit. Don’t ask him questions about next season.”
For Murray, it will be almost impossible for next season to top the second half of this one. His incredible run to No. 1 ends with eight titles in his last nine events–including Wimbledon, the Rio Olympics, Shanghai, Paris, and the World Tour Finals. He went 50-3 in his last 53 matches and 24-0 in his his last 24.
“This is the best possible way, obviously, to finish a year,” Murray stated. “I had a great year this year; (still) only managed to (finish No. 1) by one match. To repeat that again next year is going to be extremely difficult.”