The rise and rise of Mur­ray

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — The tennis tread­mill rarely stops. Andy Mur­ray will barely have time to draw breath fol­low­ing his mem­o­rable week at the Paris Mas­ters be­fore he is back on court prac­tis­ing for the year-end show­piece in Lon­don at the Bar­clays ATP World Tour Fi­nals, which start next Sun­day.

Once his work is done at the O2 Arena the Scot will fi­nally have time to take a brief break be­fore head­ing to Mi­ami for his clos­esea­son train­ing camp. By the first week of Jan­uary he will be back on the road again as an­other sea­son gets un­der way. Whether you are the new world No 1 or an upand-com­ing pro break­ing into the game, the men’s tennis sched­ule is un­re­lent­ing.

The key to Mur­ray’s rise to the top of the rank­ings has been his new-found con­sis­tency. The 29-year-old Scot’s won­der­ful tal­ent has never been in doubt, but un­til this year he had never quite matched the abil­ity of No­vak Djokovic, Roger Fed­erer and Rafael Nadal – or in­deed most of the other 22 men who have topped the world rank­ings – to turn in top-level per­for­mances week in and week out dur­ing a gru­elling sched­ule that lasts the best part of 11 months.

How­ever, Mur­ray’s re­sults since the start of this year’s clay-court sea­son have been stun­ning. Since the Monte Carlo Mas­ters the Scot has reached the fi­nal of 11 of the 12 tour­na­ments he has con­tested and won eight of them. Hav­ing fi­nally climbed the moun­tain to take the No 1 spot, he now has to prove he has the head for heights that will be re­quired to stay there.

If he is to keep top spot for more than a fort­night Mur­ray may well have to main­tain his cur­rent form through one more tour­na­ment. Djokovic, whose run of 122 con­sec­u­tive weeks at the top of the world rank­ings will come to an end on Mon­day, can yet re­claim the No 1 po­si­tion by the end of the World Tour Fi­nals, where he has won the ti­tle for the last four years in a row.

Mur­ray, in con­trast, has a sur­pris­ingly mod­er­ate record at the O2 Arena, though there have of­ten been mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances, such as in­jury is­sues or his un­der­stand­able fo­cus 12 months ago on Britain’s forth­com­ing Davis Cup fi­nal. Con­sid­er­ing how well he has per­formed in front of home crowds and at in­door tour­na­ments in the past, there ap­pears to be no rea­son why he should not do well at the O2 Arena. Pre­serv­ing his po­si­tion on top of the rank­ings will pro­vide an added in­cen­tive.

Mur­ray had not ex­pected to be breath­ing down Djokovic’s neck un­til the new year, but a com­bi­na­tion of his own re­mark­able per­for­mances and the Serb’s post-french Open slump changed ev­ery­thing.

One of the rea­sons why Mur­ray ex­pected to put the squeeze on Djokovic in the early months of 2017 is the fact that his ri­val has 4,340 rank­ing points to de­fend at the start of next year. Djokovic is the reign­ing cham­pion at the Qatar Open, the Aus­tralian Open and the Mas­ters Se­ries tour­na­ments in In­dian Wells and Mi­ami. Over the same pe­riod Mur­ray will be de­fend­ing just 1,290 points.

Al­though you can never take any­thing for granted, it would there­fore be a sur­prise, what­ever hap­pens in Lon­don later this month, if Mur­ray was not world No 1 by the time the men’s tour heads for the clay courts of Europe next April. There­after the Scot will start to ex­pe­ri­ence the pres­sure that Djokovic had han­dled so well un­til this sum­mer. From the Madrid Mas­ters on­wards it will be Mur­ray’s turn to go into tour­na­ments most weeks know­ing that he has to win the ti­tle or at least reach the fi­nal sim­ply to tread wa­ter.

One of the im­pon­der­ables in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture will be the form of Djokovic, whose slide since the start of the grass-court sea­son has been lit­tle short of spec­tac­u­lar. The Serb in­sists he has put be­hind him the off-the-court per­sonal is­sues that con­trib­uted to his early demise at Wim­ble­don, but he has since been trou­bled by a num­ber of phys­i­cal prob­lems and on fre­quent oc­ca­sions has not looked like his old con­fi­dent self.

Djokovic’s ex­am­ple shows Mur­ray how quickly ev­ery­thing can change, es­pe­cially in a sport which is so phys­i­cally de­mand­ing and so com­pet­i­tive at the top. At this stage there is no rea­son to be­lieve Mur­ray can­not en­joy a long reign at No 1 if he main­tains his form and fit­ness, but one thing is cer­tain. Hav­ing worked so hard to get to the top, he should rel­ish ev­ery mo­ment of his time there.

— In­de­pen­dent

Andy Mur­ray will now be look­ing to de­fend his new-found sta­tus as world no.1.

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