Andy Murray, world no. 1, and the unspoken facts of the journey

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Just a small reminder that the tagline for this website 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.

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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.

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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. These see-no-evil types see Murray’s brilliant achievements, but none of his failings. And they have already christened him tennis’ next top player.

Granted, it is looking highly likely that this will occur. 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 positives 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 the 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 of 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 to you online. Of course, Murray has done all that he has been required to do, and taken down those stood in his pathway. Nevertheless, 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 – will take some of the value from his potential title of 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 one 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 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 Novak Djokovic 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.

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Picture credit @CindyBlack3. Stats do not include results from the BNP Paribas Masters.

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

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Above are the facts that nobody can deny – whether they are a fan of Andy Murray or not. If you prefer, you can choose to ignore the numbers and the unchangeable history. Go and 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 almost constantly evident. The Scot’s transition from clay-court-nobody to elite-clay-court-star has been among his most impressive achievements, and his titles on the surface have been truly earned. Winning Wimbledon and Olympic gold twice? That is no accident.

Nevertheless, this does not change the fact that Paris’ no. 2 seed 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 elite stars he has needed to face this season, in comparison with 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 a valid argument against that statement – because of 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.

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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!

17 thoughts on “Andy Murray, world no. 1, and the unspoken facts of the journey

  1. There’s a few errors or misleading statements in your “unspoken facts” which, whilst there don’t affect the thrust of your arguments, risk making it look supported only by inaccuracies.

    Fact 2 implies that he beat a top 10 player on Friday – he didn’t as Berdych is ranked 11.
    (I see you’ve already removed an error in fact 3).
    Fact 4- I think the tournament figures are 15 for Djokovic and 17 for Murray (that is including the DC final since it is counting in the race, 16 truely in 2016).
    Fact 1 I would say for more an opinion since Murray was ranked second overall last year without Federer being out for 6 months. I agree though with the general thrust of this point (that it is their demise that has resulted in Murray having the chance to take the number 1 without having a stellar multi-slam year.

    I also think some of the focus on “wins against top player on the way to titles” rather than simply wins against them is not the most useful way to view things. For example, without beating Stan to get to the French Open final, Murray would not be able to take the no.1 this week.

    Does this go too far to the negative to counteract the British press hype – I think it does.

    Is the language “by default” too prejorative – for me, yes it is – it’s not like there are only 4 decent players in the ATP. Certainly, my expectation has always been the Murray would decline before Djokovic and therefore the next no.1 wpuld be Nishikori or Raonic, or maybe even a true #nextgen. That these players could have taken advantage of the current situation with the “big 3” but that it is Murray who actually has, tells us about Murray as a player as well as about them.

    But, back to the argument, did Djokovic have the more impressive season, and Murray ascendency is more about Djokovic’s results falling off a cliff (through injury/niggles, form, motivation, whatever) – I agree.

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    1. Thanks for the comment and your keen observations!

      Fair point on Fact One. I considered leaving it to the opinion section alone, but figured there was a good amount of evidence to back it up. Totally see where you’re coming from, though.

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  2. Obviously Murray hasn’t actually reached no.1 yet, and there’s an interesting quirk about the match tomorrow where he may earn it – that if Murray doesn’t win, Raonic will be ranked above Wawrinka. That to me is as much of a “lol, what?” outcome as Murray being above Djokovic. But then, it just shows rankings are about accumulating points not proving who is the best player. Does anyone think that Milos winning tomorrow makes him a better player than Stan? Best just to accept what the rankings are. Deciding who is the best player requires some subjectivity on the context of points gained (against who, what circumstances e.g. quality of opponents, scheduling, absent rivals) and subjectivity means personal opinion – there’s no objective “better player” measure.

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  3. Perfectly written article… I totally agree 100% with the facts..here’s hoping the other big 4 members are fit and mentally prepared for the next season and we can have this debate again 🙂

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  4. Agreed you can only beat what’s set in front of you and he has done that but it isn’t half frustrating that now plenty of people will see him as the best player in the world, especially British people. The British press are almost more annoying than the fact he is now no.1, they just worship the guy. I think everyone needs to read this blog post and see that yes, he has worked very hard to get to where he is but there is no way he should be seen as a better player that Roger, Rafa and Novak.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for reading, Chad!

      Definitely not denying that he has worked tremendously hard. You don’t become world no. 1 for no reason. Having said that, he does have a heck of a long way to go to even match Federer, Djokovic and Nadal. It will be interesting – if he hangs onto it – to see how possessing the top ranking affects his performances at Slams.

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  5. On one hand, I see the easier draws. On the other, Murray can’t control if top players lose before they are supposed to lose. From Madrid to Bercy, Murray has won 6 titles that count toward ranking points plus an olympic gold and has been runner-up at 3 events. With the Bercy final tomorrow that is 10 championship rounds with ranking points plus gold. I think Novak can be seen as having had the better year based upon all he has done w/ 2 majors, 4 Masters 1000, plus 1 major runner-up & 2 masters 1000 runner-up finishes and a 250 level title. London can decide it. Each will play at least 3 top 8 opponents in London. I was hoping they would face off with the ranking on the line this week, but we may get that prize fight situation soon enough.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Dan!

      Nice comment and valid points. Honestly, as far as the mental game goes, I think Djokovic could be done for the year. So it is a shame he and Murray didn’t face off earlier. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how things play out if they do meet in London – even if it’s only as a preview to the 2017 season.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yeah, I could see Novak and Murray even meeting in the London semis as one finishes second in his pool. Also, the tweetstorm about your take is unwarranted. You didn’t defame Andy Murray in what you wrote above.

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        1. I was just thinking about that possibility! Would be similar to when Nadal landed Djokovic in the semis last year, even though he finished first, because Novak came in at second. At the end of a long season, it could easily happen to either of Murray or Djokovic.

          Thanks a lot for that, I appreciate it 🙂 I was very careful not to disrespect Murray throughout the writing process. He has achieved a brilliant amount so far in his career, and I can only imagine how hard he must have worked over the years.

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  6. I delayed writing an entry in order to check the responses to your demolition of Murray – which are more measured than I expected. One key point – in any other era Andy Murray would have dominated and I see the Daily Telegraph has just named him the greatest British tennis player of all time. Maybe if his personality was more media and fan friendly he would be rated more highly by critics?

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