2016 Flashback: Murray Mounts Stunning Charge To Title, Year-End No. 1
Season comes down to final-match decider
The moment couldn't have been more perfect for Andy Murray and the London faithful. In front of his home fans at The O2, the British No. 1 became a year-end World No. 1 for the first time, as the drama boiled over at the Nitto ATP Finals.
It was a match that had the entire tennis world on the edge of their seats. A winner-take-all encounter between two longtime rivals in Murray and Novak Djokovic. Not only was the trophy on the line, but also the year-end top spot in the ATP Rankings. You couldn't have scripted a more climactic culmination to the 2016 season.
"It’s a very special day," Murray during the trophy presentation. "It’s been a tough rivalry. I’ve lost many of them but obviously I’m happy I’ve got the win today. To finish the year No. 1 is very special. It’s something I never expected."
In June, Murray was so far behind Djokovic that not even he was aware of the possibility of dethroning the reigning World No. 1. The Serbian had a 9,025-point lead in the ATP Rankings after securing his first Roland Garros crown and holding all four Grand Slam titles. But what was perceived to be an insurmountable lead for Djokovic became one of the biggest challenges of Murray's career.
As the Belgrade native's season began to spiral, Murray was playing the best tennis of his life and he would produce a mesmerising march to seize all the momentum. At his peak, the Scot won a career-best 24 matches in a row, capturing five straight trophies - Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, Paris and London - in the process.
One defeat and the year-end No. 1 spot would be lost. It was a monumental task, but Murray was up to the challenge. The margins were that slim as he entered The O2 on the banks of the River Thames. Both he and Djokovic stormed through group play with the loss of just one set each, but their semi-final victories were polar opposites. Djokovic routed Kei Nishikori 6-1, 6-1, while Murray was forced to save a match point in edging Milos Raonic 5-7, 7-6(5), 7-6(9) in three hours and 38 minutes.
Seemingly weary and fatigued, Murray entered the championship clash with a distinct disadvantage. He had laboured on court for a marathon nine hours and 56 minutes entering the final, including the two longest best-of-three set matches in tournament history (since 1991). The dream was going to come up one match short. Or so it seemed.
Touted as a match for the ages with so much on the line, it was Murray who grabbed the immediate initiative. Impenetrable from the back of the court, he turned defence into offence in a flash. Djokovic was uncharacteristically off balance and Murray capitalised, firing a stunning backhand pass to earn a set and a double-break lead and slam the door shut. He triumphed 6-3, 6-4, as the raucous London crowd leapt to their feet to celebrate with their native son.
“I would like to try and stay at No. 1, obviously. It's taken a huge effort the last five, six months to get there,” said Murray at The O2. “I would obviously like to stay there. I'm aware that's going to be extremely difficult because I had a great year this year. I only managed to do it by one match."
It was the first time since 2000 in Lisbon (Gustavo Kuerten) that the year-end No. 1 player has been decided by the outcome of the championship match of the season finale. Moreover, Murray became the first player to win the Nitto ATP Finals title after saving match point since Roger Federer in 2006.