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.
10. Roberto Bautista Agut d. Djokovic 6-4, 6-4 – Shanghai semifinals
Djokovic came up 630 points short of Murray in the final rankings. The difference between a title at the Shanghai Masters instead of a semifinal loss? You guessed it: 640. Of course, a title for Djokovic would have also meant that Murray finished runner-up instead of lifting the winner’s trophy, so the Serb actually would have prevailed in the final rankings by 410 points instead of 10 points. Either way, Bautista Agut’s upset was a big one–both for the Spaniard and for Murray.
9. Marin Cilic d. Djokovic 6-4, 7-6(2) – Paris quarterfinals
Cilic may not be considered by everyone to be a worthy Grand Slam champion (2014 U.S. Open), but the bottom line is that when he gets hot, he gets scorching hot. Just ask Murray (lost to Cilic in this summer’s Cincinnati final), Roger Federer (lost to Cilic in the 2014 U.S Open semis), and Djokovic. In the Paris quarters, the Croat broke his opponent three times in two sets. Had Djokovic prevailed, he would have been a heavy favorite against John Isner in the semis and likely would have battled Murray for the title.
8. Murray d. Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-7(5), 7-5 – Paris second round
Murray ended up snagging the full 1,000 points as the Paris champion. But he almost exited the event with next to nothing. Although Verdasco was 1-11 lifetime in the head-to-head series heading into the BNP Paribas Masters, he had been competitive at times–including in a five-set Wimbledon quarterfinal loss in 2013 (Murray went on to capture the title). The Spaniard had a break point at 5-5 in the third set of this one, but he could not convert and promptly got broken at love to end his upset bid.
7. Murray d. Radek Stepanek 3-6, 3-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-5 – French Open first round
Murray went a long, long way in each of his two Paris events this season. Not unlike his indoor run in Bercy, the Scot’s Roland Garros campaign came perilously close to never getting off the ground. In fact, he dropped his first two sets of the tournament to the wily veteran Stepanek. Although the 37-year-old Czech disappeared in the third and fourth sets, he righted the ship for a competitive fifth. Stepanek even found himself two points from the match with Murray serving at 4-5, 30-30, but the No. 2 seed managed to survive.
6. Murray d. Djokovic 6-3, 6-3 – Rome final
The first half of the 2016 ATP season was a one-man show, to the extent that the race for the No. 1 ranking appeared to be all over after the clay-court swing. It probably would have been if Djokovic had secured the Rome title, but it proved to be one of his few early-season blemishes. Although he came within one match of lifting the trophy, he didn’t come close against Murray. The Scot did not drop serve a single time and broke Djokovic on three occasions to cruise in one hour and 36 minutes.