Murray defeats Djokovic to end remarkable year as No.1
TENNIS: The most remarkable year of Andy Murray's career ended in one of his sweetest triumphs as the 29-year-old Scot won the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London for the first time, and in so doing sealed his position as the year-end world No.1.
Novak Djokovic, Murray's perennial rival, would have taken back top spot in the rankings if he had won this season-ending showcase event for the fifth year in a row, but the Wimbledon champion summoned up one last superhuman effort in the final match of the season to win his 24th match in succession and beat the Serb 6-3 6-4 in just an hour and 42 minutes.
The odds seemed stacked against Murray given how hard he had to work to get to the final, particularly in comparison with Djokovic's more comfortable passage, but in winning his 78th match of the year - which is 13 more than Djokovic, the season's second most successful player, has won - the Scot barely flinched.
Murray has enjoyed an astonishing second half of the season. While Djokovic had for the most part struggled since winning his second grand slam title of the campaign at the French Open in June, Murray has gone from strength to strength.
Since the Monte Carlo Masters in April, Murray has reached the final of 12 of the 13 tournaments he's entered, winning nine of them. This was his fifth tournament victory in a row and the 44th of his career. It came with prizemoney of $US2,391,000 ($3,265,000), which should help fund a Christmas present or two for his coaching team headed by Ivan Lendl, who has made such a difference since returning to the Scot's entourage this summer.
By the end of the French Open, Djokovic led Murray by 8035 points in the rankings, but he was overhauled when the Scot won the Paris Masters at the start of this month and will be 630 points behind him in the year-end list. Murray will be the 17th player to top the official year-end rankings since they were launched in 1973.
Djokovic's mid-summer lead was such that Murray had not expected to challenge him at the top of the rankings until early next year, but he now has an excellent chance to hold on to the No.1 position for several months. Between the start of the new year and the beginning of the clay-court season in April, Djokovic will have 4340 ranking points to defend while Murray has just 1290.
Murray often performs at his best on home soil, but has sometimes struggled at this year-end tournament. However, the defence of his world No.1 ranking had spurred him into some remarkable performances over the previous week, even if the effort he had to put in left Djokovic as the favourite in many people's eyes.
Djokovic, who finished year-end No.1 in four of the previous five seasons, went into the final having spent four hours and 29 minutes on court in his previous three matches, whereas Murray had been detained for eight hours and 22 minutes in his previous three.
On Wednesday the Scot won the longest match ever played in the event when he needed three hours and 20 minutes to beat Kei Nishikori, and that record was beaten on Saturday when he took three hours and 38 minutes to win his semi-final against Milos Raonic.
In the final Murray did not make the best of starts, serving two double faults in the first four points, while Djokovic held both of his opening service games to love. Murray, nevertheless, was the first to threaten a break of serve as Djokovic had to defend two break points at 2-3 in a game that lasted nearly 10 minutes.
Two games later Djokovic was in trouble again. On his third break point of the match Murray cracked a big forehand wide to his opponent's backhand and Djokovic was unable to get the ball back.
Murray made no mistake when he served for the set at 5-3. Under pressure from the power and accuracy of the Scot's ground strokes, Djokovic made four successive errors, the last of which was greeted with a huge roar from the crowd as Murray took the set in just 46 minutes.
There was no let-up at the start of the second set as Murray converted his fourth break point of the opening game when Djokovic netted a backhand. When the Serb had the sniff of a chance of a break back at 1-2 he miscued horribly when attempting to put away what should have been a routine drive volley winner.
At 1-3 Djokovic went 0-40 down when Murray hit a sensational backhand cross-court winner, which brought a combination of gasps and roars from the crowd. Two points later he had broken again as a Djokovic backhand flew beyond the baseline.
However, just when the defending champion seemed dead and buried he launched a typically spirited comeback. After an hour and 18 minutes Djokovic forced his first break point and converted it immediately when Murray hit a forehand long.
At 4-3, however, Murray steadied the ship, holding serve to 15 to put himself within four points of victory. When Murray served for the match two games later Djokovic saved two match points with a smash and a forehand winner, but on the third the Serb hit a forehand return wide of the tramlines. Murray dropped his racket to the floor, apparently in disbelief, before sharing a warm embrace at the net with his great rival.
Australia's John Peers, who was Jamie Murray's partner at this tournament last year, and Finland's Henri Kontinen won the doubles title, beating Raven Klaasen and Rajeev Ram 2-6 6-1 10-8 in the final.