Andy Murray: How he beat Novak Djokovic to world No 1 ranking in 2016 and won ATP Finals after magical run
Andy Murray went on an incredible run to overtake Novak Djokovic as world No 1 at the end of 2016, winning 24 matches in a row to rise to the top of the rankings for the first time in his career. Murray won nine titles in total during a remarkable season, including Wimbledon for the second time, and beat Djokovic in his last match of the year in London.
It’s sometimes easy these days to forget just how good Andy Murray was at the peak of his powers. Before the surgeries, before the metal hip, before the niggling injury issues, Murray mixed it with the very best in the world week in, week out, and was at one stage the best in the world.
He won his first Grand Slam in 2012 and triumphed at Wimbledon for the first time in 2013, but it was in the lead up to the ATP Finals in 2016 when Murray reached a level that has rarely been seen on the ATP Tour this century.
With the ATP Finals set to start in Turin on November 14, we look back on how Murray soared to the top of the world five years ago...
Murray’s 2016 season was not a bolt from the blue.
He came into the year ranked No 2 in the world and had won four titles in 2015 as well as reaching the semi-finals or better of three of the four Grand Slams. He had also finished the season by inspiring Great Britain to victory in the Davis Cup final.
A fifth run to the Australian Open final was a positive start to the new year, but Murray's mood soured after surprise early exits in Miami and Indian Wells. Murray looked a disconsolate figure at times in his defeat to Grigor Dimitrov in Indian Wells and his frustration boiled over as he smashed his racquet against his bag. Behind the scenes there was talk of friction in the camp between Murray and coach Amelie Mauresmo, and their partnership would not last long into the clay season.
A semi-final loss to Rafael Nadal in the first clay event in Monte Carlo was followed by defeat to Novak Djokovic in the Madrid Open final, after which Mauresmo left the team and the year-end No 1 ranking seemed already tied up as Djokovic held a 9,025-point lead over Murray.
But Murray quickly turned the tables on the world No 1 to win the Italian Open before producing his best career performance at the French Open, battling to five-set wins over qualifier Radek Stepanek and wildcard Mathias Bourgue in the opening rounds and then beating defending champion Stan Wawrinka in the semi-finals. Even though he lost to Djokovic in four sets in the final, Murray’s clay season paved the way for a spectacular summer.
Just a week losing in the final in Paris, Murray was onto the grass at Queen’s. He went into the tournament with a familiar face in his corner: Ivan Lendl. The Czech had agreed to rejoin Murray’s coaching team following a successful spell together from 2011 to 2014 and part two of the partnership could hardly have started better as a 22-match winning run secured two titles and Olympic gold. Murray beat fellow Brits Aljaz Bedene and Kyle Edmund on his way to the Queen’s final, where he overcame Milos Raonic in three sets. It was the same result a month later when clinched Murray his second Wimbledon title, beating Raonic in three sets in the final at the All England Club.
Murray always felt in control as he clinched a second Wimbledon title in 2016
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From there it was onto Rio for the 2016 Olympics where Murray came through a relatively kind draw before winning a second singles gold by beating Juan Martin del Potro in a gruelling final. Two tournaments in America didn’t provide any further silverware – Murray lost in the Western & Southern Open final to Marin Cilic and was beaten in five sets by Kei Nishikori in the US Open quarter-finals – but the year was far from over.
Was securing the world No 1 on Murray’s mind in September? He was 2,055 points behind after the US Open, but there were plenty of points on offer in the remaining months – and plenty of motivation too.
“Trying to reach No 1 is a goal. I’ve never been there,” he said ahead of the Asia swing. “It’s something I would like to do for the first time, which is maybe more of a motivation for me than some of the guys that have been there before.
“I want to just try and finish this year strongly from a personal point of view. It’s been my best season to date, and I want to try to finish it as best as I can.”
Andy Murray celebrates winning the China Open in 2016
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To get to No 1 it was expected that Murray would have to win almost every tournament he played and hope Djokovic, who seemed to be back in form after a surprise third-round loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon, slipped up along the way.
Murray’s first opening came at the China Open as Djokovic withdrew with an elbow issue. Murray swept through the draw without dropping a set to close the gap on the world No 1 and then edged even closer a week later as he won the ATP Masters 1000 in Shanghai after Djokovic was beaten in the semi-finals. The result saw Murray move 915 points behind with three tournaments left on his schedule.
"I believe I can get there. I definitely believe I can get there. These last few months have proved that to me.”
On top of the world
The belief grew even stronger in Vienna as Murray continued his impressive form by winning a third title in a row, taking him to a career-high seven titles for the year. With Djokovic not playing in Austria, Murray, who had lost just three matches since the French Open final, knew that he could clinch the world No 1 spot at the Paris Masters. To do so he would need to win the tournament and Djokovic would need to lose before the final.
A semi-final defeat for Djokovic against Cilic gave Murray his opportunity and he took it, beating Raonic to become world No 1 for the first time and then following up with victory over John Isner to extend his winning run to 19 matches.
"He's definitely a player who deserves that," said Djokovic about handing over the No 1 ranking to Murray after 122 consecutive weeks. "Undoubtedly, much respect for what he has done. We have known each other since very, very early days. We were, I think, 11 years old when we first played against each other. And to see how he has raised his level in the last 12 months is quite extraordinary."
Isner was also full of admiration for Murray. “He’s the guy that everyone is looking up to right now. He’s been at the top of the game for so long. Whether it’s No 2, 3 or 4 in the world, everyone knows how hard he works and how dedicated he is. He’s a big inspiration to myself, and I’m sure he’s a big inspiration to other players as well.”
Andy Murray celebrates becoming world No 1 in Paris in 2016
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Murray was the first player outside of the ‘Big Three’ to hold the No 1 ranking since February 2004, but there was a chance it could be a short stay at the top with Djokovic able to move ahead at the season-ending ATP Finals in London. Murray came through a tricky group, beating Cilic, Nishikori and Wawrinka, and then saw off Raonic for the seventh time in 2016 in the semi-finals. With Djokovic also coming through his half of the draw, it all came down to the final match of the season to decide the year-end No 1. Murray had spent much longer on court than Djokovic over the week but that didn't seem to matter as he triumphed 6-3 6-4 to extend his winning run to 24 matches and claim a ninth title of a remarkable season. Murray also became the first man to win a Grand Slam singles title, Olympic gold, a Masters 1000 event, and the ATP Finals in the same calendar year.
"Andy is definitely number one in the world," said Djokovic. "He is the best player.”
Murray would hold the No 1 spot for 41 consecutive weeks before Nadal reclaimed it in August 2017. Since then Murray has not hit the same heights again, with a hip injury in the summer of 2017 the first of several setbacks. He remains hopeful that he can still compete with the best in the world, but it seems almost impossible that he will ever reach the level that he did during an incredible finish to 2016.