For the first time in ATP Tour history, a year-end No.1 ranking all came down to the final match between the top two players in the world. Andy Murray got the best of Novak Djokovic at the World Tour Finals to finish a season No. 1 for the first time in his career. For most of 2016, however, Murray’s accomplishment seemed unlikely at best. But how did the race become so incredibly close? Let’s take a look at the 10 most influential matches in deciding the top spot.
5. Stan Wawrinka d. Djokovic 6-7(1), 6-4, 7-5, 6-3 – U.S. Open final
The final margin between Murray and Djokovic was 630 points, which is not a whole lot considering it all boiled down to the last match. Simple math also makes it easy to see that this showdown between Wawrinka and Djokovic also made the difference, as a triumph for the Serb would have given him an extra 1,000 points that he instead left on the table. As usual, this rivalry produced the most amazing points amidst the most intense pressure. It was Wawrinka who bounced back from a grueling first-set loss to capture his third slam title.
4. Murray d. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 7-6(10), 6-1, 3-6, 4-6, 6-1 – Wimbledon quarterfinals
With the likes of Djokovic and Roger Federer out of the way, Murray had no trouble blazing through championship weekend at Wimbledon with beatdowns of Tomas Berdych in the semis and Milos Raonic in the final. But the No. 2 seed almost bowed out before he ever got that far. He blew all of a two-set lead against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters before righting the ship to survive–more like dominate–a fifth. Murray doubled his winners to errors count (46 to 23) and even Tsonga finished with more winners than mistakes (59 to 47) in defeat.
3. Sam Querrey d. Djokovic 7-6(6), 6-1, 3-6, 7-6(5) – Wimbledon third round
The biggest upset of the 2016 ATP season marked the beginning of Djokovic’s second-half demise. Wimbledon’s top seed was still looking like a strong contender to capture the calendar-year Grand Slam–having already gotten the job done at the Australian Open and the French Open–when he took the court against Querrey. But an out-of-sorts Serb started alarmingly slow and could not climb all the way back when the rain-delayed competition resumed one day later. Querrey, who had lost five-setters in four of his past six Wimbledon appearances, managed to avoid a decider by stealing a wild, back-and-forth fourth set.
2. Murray d. Djokovic 6-3. 6-4 – World Tour Finals final
This is obviously what decided the whole shebang–but it ranks No. 2 on this list because it came within one point (one second serve, one volley, etc.) of never happening. Although Murray had won seven of his last nine tournaments and 49 of his last 52 matches (23 in a row, as well), a brutal road through London saw him survive thrillers against Raonic and Kei Nishikori. Djokovic, meanwhile, had positively dominated throughout his bid for a fifth straight title. But fatigue played no part in this one, as Murray–aside from a few hiccups near the finish line–dominated just about the entire way.
1. Murray d. Milos Raonic, 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) – World Tour Finals semifinals
Murray’s penultimate match of the year was unquestionably his most dramatic. In fact, it was arguably the most dramatic, nerve-wracking contest of the entire ATP season. Had the world No. 1 lost to Raonic in the World Tour Finals semis, he would have needed Nishikori to upset Djokovic later in the day in order to maintain the top spot. That, of course, was never going to happen (Djokovic ended up cruising 6-1, 6-1). Knowing this was a must-win situation, Murray survived an uproarious three-hour and 38-minute battle (the longest best-of-three match in 2016) in which he saved one match point and squandered three before converting his fourth chance at 10-9 in the final-set tiebreaker.