Just a small reminder that the tagline for this website currently reads: “Raw and opinionated writing about professional tennis.” Now you may proceed. If you have a particular liking for Andy Murray, I advise you do so with caution.
On Friday in Paris, Novak Djokovic – still in a mental wilderness following a shocking Wimbledon campaign – lost to Marin Cilic in the BNP Paribas Masters quarter-finals. Naturally, after two years of totally unnatural dominance and supremacy, the Serb’s motivation and energy levels are running low. His 6-4 7-6(2) loss to Cilic was his first ever against the Croat, coming on the heels of 14 straight victories and 12 straight sets won against the 2014 US Open champion.
But, of course, that was not Friday’s biggest story. The headline-grabber was that Andy Murray – who edged Tomas Berdych 7-6(9) 7-5 to reach the semifinals – will now become world no. 1 if he makes the Paris Masters final.
This is Andy Murray, who has the same number of Grand Slam titles as Stan Wawrinka. Andy Murray, who possesses three majors in comparison to Novak Djokovic’s 12, Rafael Nadal’s 14 and Roger Federer’s 17.
Andy Murray, whom many a British tennis journalist idolises, fawns over, worships and adores. Those referenced see Murray’s brilliant achievements, but never the other side of the coin. And they have already christened him tennis’ next top player.
Granted, it is looking highly likely that this will occur. The Scot’s hard work is being rewarded. But I am also British, and I think it only fair that at least one of us touches upon the details that everybody else is ignoring. So do forgive me if I sound incredibly negative. But in a world where people cry long and loud for objectivity in tennis reporting, all the highlights have been well and truly covered.
Here are five unspoken facts surrounding Andy Murray’s quest for the world no. 1 ranking.
UNSPOKEN FACT NO. 1: Andy Murray has required Roger Federer to be out for six months, Rafael Nadal to be struggling long-term with injury, and Novak Djokovic to be mentally nowhere in order to get anywhere close to the no. 1 ranking.
The evidence? It is plain and simple. In the many years during which at least one of these three elite superstars have been at their best, Murray – who has worked admirably hard to become their closest rival – has grasped a quarter of Djokovic’s total Grand Slam haul, and spent the majority of that time ranked world no. 3 or below. Only now – with their forces temporarily fading – is the Scot on the brink of climbing the final rung on the ATP ladder.
UNSPOKEN FACT NO. 2: Prior to Friday, Andy Murray had not beaten a top 10 player since mid-August. During this time, he had won three titles: one of them a 500 event, and one of them a Masters 1000 trophy.
These are cold, hard facts – printed in black and white, and readily available online. Of course, Murray has done all that has been required of him, and taken down those stood in his path. Yet I am not denying that he has done so. I am simply arguing that certain factors – such as the aforementioned two, and the upcoming three – suggest that his forthcoming ‘world no. 1’ status will not be equal to ‘world’s best player’.
UNSPOKEN FACT NO. 3: Andy Murray has beaten just one top five opponent during his tournament victories in 2016.
Seven event victories. One of them was a Grand Slam, another the Olympic Games. And yet his only top five victim was an irritable Novak Djokovic in the Rome final. Even for Murray – whose 2016 draws have been rather laughable on several occasions – that’s a special statistic.
UNSPOKEN FACT NO. 4: Andy Murray has won fewer Masters 1000 and Grand Slam titles than another player this season.
On the four biggest stages in tennis this year, Djokovic has come out on top twice, with Murray striking glory once. The Serb has triumphed at four Masters events to Murray’s two, with his haul including the prestigious Indian Wells/Miami double.
As Roger Federer – whom Murray has not defeated in almost four years – and Rafael Nadal have spent lengthy periods of the year sidelined, it is only fair to compare Murray with the one rival who has competed almost as much as himself this season (Djokovic playing 16 tournaments compared with Murray’s 18.) And unfortunately for Murray, it is not just tournament records in which he trails the Serb.
UNSPOKEN FACT NO. 5: Novak Djokovic dominates Andy Murray in nearly every statistic involving calibre of opposition.
With his 15 top ten players beaten and six top five players dismissed, the 12-time Grand Slam champion thrashes Murray’s effort of six top ten opponents beaten and just one top five opponent dismissed. The British no. 1 possesses a negative 2016 record not only against the Big Four, but also the top five in general this season. Meanwhile, Djokovic holds a 7-1 win/loss record against his three closest rivals, and is 7-2 in duels versus the top five. Making it personal, he holds a 3-1 advantage over Murray in their 2016 head-to-head.
Despite this, there have been those who have scorned the idea of people considering another player the best in the world, even if Andy Murray claims the top ranking. Yet how many people truly believe that Angelique Kerber – who has lost six of her eight clashes with Serena Williams – is currently a better player than the 22-time Grand Slam champion? A 20-major deficit – and a meagre amount of competitive appearances from the American this season – are key statistics in that debate
Above are the facts that nobody can deny – whether or not they are a fan of Andy Murray. If you prefer, you can ignore the numbers and the unchangeable history. Enjoy the Brit’s ascendancy to the top of the rankings (should it happen), and stop reading here.
Because now, I am simply sharing my opinion. And it is this:
Murray has obviously worked incredibly hard over the past few years – and especially the past couple of seasons – to consolidate his place among the ‘Big Four’. His formidable groundstroke game, his reliable serve and – especially – his steely mentality are consistently present. The Scot’s transition from clay-court-nobody to elite-clay-court-star must rank among the most impressive achievements of his career, and his titles on the surface have been well and truly earned. Winning Wimbledon and Olympic gold twice? That is no accident.
Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that the no. 2 seed in Paris has never beaten Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal – two men who have caused him many nightmares – en route to a major title. The statistics above reveal how few established stars he has needed to face this season – in sharp contrast to the man whom he may soon upend as world no. 1. And when he has been required to face tennis’ best, the Wimbledon champion has come up short more times than he has risen victorious.
On a wider timescale, Murray has lost his last eight Grand Slam encounters with members of the ATP’s hallowed quartet – a streak dating back to Wimbledon 2013. And his all-time 94-76 win/loss record against top ten foes is dominated by Federer’s total of 198-107, Nadal’s tally of 140-76, and Djokovic’s count of 176-82.
Andy Murray will deserve to be world no. 1, in that he has acquired the ranking points to have the computer generate that number beside his name. But there will always be an asterisk following that statement – due to the men who have dropped ranking points as the Briton has risen.
Amidst the struggles of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray – talented though he is – will be world no. 1 by default.
Thanks for reading! It’s the debate that has been accelerating with every day that passes. Where do you stand? Sound off in the comments section!