From the Hunter to the Hunted: Murray Looks to Hold Grip on Top Spot in 2017

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For 76 weeks, Andy Murray took a backseat to Novak Djokovic in the ATP Men’s Singles World Tour Rankings. But the Briton ever so slightly trimmed away at the deficit and it all culminated just a couple of months ago, when he finally leapfrogged Djokovic, becoming the 26th player to reach the top spot and ending Djokovic’s 122 consecutive week reign.

“I feel like getting to number one … it wasn’t about this week, or about last week. It’s been many years of work to get here,” said Murray. “The most satisfying thing is it’s been such a difficult thing to do in my career. In the beginning of my career, I always wanted to win a Grand Slam, but now that I’ve grown older, getting to number one was something I have tried to do. I needed to improve my consistency and the last couple of seasons, I have done that.”

Similar to the way Angelique Kerber achieved the number one ranking on the women’s side, the way Murray officially jumped to number one was probably not the way he had envisioned it.

After Djokovic lost to Marin Cilic in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters, Murray just needed to reach the finals in order to take over the top ranking. He was scheduled to play Canada’s Milos Raonic in his semifinal, but a quad tear forced Raonic to withdraw from that semifinal match, and thus Murray leaped into the world’s top ranking for the first time in his career.

“It feels a bit strange how it happened, and obviously unfortunate that Milos was injured,” said Murray. “To get to this stage is about 12 months of tournaments. The last few months have been the best of my career, and I’m very proud to get to this moment.”

While Murray had already accomplished what he set out to do in reaching the number one spot, he would still have to play Djokovic in the ATP World Tour Finals in London to ensure he would end the year at number one. Playing as the top ranked player in the world, the Briton showed great confidence, dispatching the Serb 6-3, 6-4 in a victory that symbolized the passing of the torch.

“He has been my main rival really throughout my career. We’ve played in all of the Slam finals, Olympics, and a match to finish the year number one. We played in loads of Masters 1000 Series finals, as well, and are one week apart in age,” said Murray. “It’s obviously a very important win for me. It was just a huge match to finish the year, to try and finish number one.”

The win at the ATP World Tour Finals marked the 24th consecutive triumph for Murray and was the culmination of a remarkable 12 months for the 29-year-old.

Murray’s 2016 began just about the same way his 2015 season did, with a trip to the Australian Open finals, and once again, was dealt a loss by Djokovic in Melbourne. Murray would slip to number three in the world rankings following his defeat in the Madrid finals against Djokovic, but would not stay there long, and was able to exact some revenge on Djokovic, winning the Internazionali BNL d’Italia title after beating the Serb in the final, regaining the number two spot in the world from Roger Federer.

From that point forward, Murray was the best player in the world for the rest of 2016. Despite losing to Djokovic in the French Open final, Murray had picked up steam during the clay court season which he would use to power his grass court season.

Helping matters was the return of eight-time Grand Slam singles champion Ivan Lendl as Murray’s coach. Playing in his first tournament since Lendl’s return, Murray defended his title at the Aegon Championships at the All-England Club with a comeback win against Raonic.

Murray’s year and his push towards number one really picked up beginning at Wimbledon, the tournament that haunted him early in his career before he broke through in 2013. He knocked off Nick Kyrgios, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Tomas Berdych and Raonic en route to his second Wimbledon title.

When asked if he would enjoy this Wimbledon trophy more than his first, Murray said:

“I’m going to make sure I do. Last time I was just so relieved. The stress and the pressure meant I didn’t get to enjoy it too much. But I’ll make sure I enjoy this one for sure.”

Those good vibes would last more than just that night, as he packed his bags for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. While there were no ranking points on the line, there is something special about representing your country in the Olympics, something not lost on Murray. He battled hard for two weeks and was able to outlast Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro in an epic four-hour final, capturing his second Gold Medal in Men’s Singles Tennis.

“To finish with a match like that was very emotional,” said Murray about earning Gold in Rio. “It’s been a buildup of emotions over the last 10 days, and I’m very happy I got over the line tonight … I’m so tired.”

That fatigue may have played a factor in Flushing Meadows just a few weeks later, as he fell in the quarterfinals to Japan’s Kei Nishikori. But he wouldn’t stay down long, winning titles in Shanghai, Vienna and Paris, before heading to London and winning the ATP World Tour Finals.

The year 2016 wasn’t just a historic one for Murray, but also for men’s tennis, as he became the first player to win a Grand Slam, the ATP World Tour Finals, an Olympic Gold Medal and multiple Masters 1000s titles in the same calendar year. In all, he won a total of 78 matches and nine titles in 2016 to finish the year as the top ranked player in the world.

The target is now on his back as the 2017 season is now underway. Murray has always possessed one of the biggest and most competitive spirits on tour, and much of his success can be attributed to that. As he shifts from the hunter to the hunted, Murray will begin his year seeking his first Australian Open title, a trophy that he has come ever so close to clutching.

Now that he has finally reached the top spot in the world, his goal for 2017 is simple: Stay there!

“I would obviously like to stay there,” Murray said. “I’m aware that’s going to be extremely difficult because I had a great year in 2016. I only managed to do it by one match. To repeat that again next year is going be extremely difficult.”