At the end of 2016, a friend who casually watches tennis asked me, who the number one player in the world was. He almost choked when I told him it was Andy Murray. Not that Murray isn’t a good player but to the casual observer Murray kind of snuck into the top spot at the end of 2016. He won Wimbledon and the Olympics but he lost in the quarterfinals at the US Open to Kei Nishikori. Djokovic, on the other hand, had lost early at the Wimbledon and the Olympics but he made it to the final of the US Open, losing to an in-form Wawrinka. Not a great summer for Djokovic but surely he didn’t deserve to lose the number 1 ranking having won the Australian and the French Open earlier in the year? To answer that question the remainder of the tennis year needs to be examined.
After the US Open, the casual fan would have stopped watching tennis, however, the tennis nut would have continued his/her unending love of all things tennis and would have kept up with the many tournaments that make up the fall/winter season. Keeping up with the fall/winter tennis schedule would have made a case of how Murray could have stolen the top spot.
In the fall, Murray went on a tear. He won 4 tournaments in a row, Beijing, Shanghai, Vienna, & Paris while Djokovic floundered and lost in the semi-finals in Shanghai to Roberto Bautista Agut, and the quarter-finals in Paris to Marin Cilic, both in straight sets. What was going on? Djokovic should not have lost in straight sets to anybody let alone to two players not ranked in the top 10 (Cilic was ranked 10 at the time).
Djokovic’s poor form in the fall began to make sense in light of an October interview in which he admitted that he was “mentally and emotionally exhausted” since his Roland Garros win in June and that his motivation had wavered. Finally, we had the answer to what was wrong with Djokovic? But still Djokovic was so dominant the first half of the year, how could he lose his number 1, he had won two slams(Australian and French). Murray had only won 1 slam, Wimbledon, and although he had won the Olympics, the ATP does not award points for Olympic competition. But what the ATP does award is consistency. Murray, although he didn’t win as many slams, was more consistent than Djokovic throughout the whole year. As it is said(somewhere I am sure), ranking points don’t lie. Murray's fall run gave him a boost and he claimed the number 1 spot after winning Paris.
It was a great achievement for Murray to claim the number 1 spot for the first time, however, it was fitting that the year-end number 1 ranking would be decided at the ATP World Tour Finals.
On his side of the draw, Murray struggled against an inspired Nishikori and an in form Raonic but managed to make it to the final. Djokovic faced some challenges against Raonic and Thiem in early round robin play but got back on track and breezed through his last two matches. The stage was set. Number 1 against number 2, who would be truly deserving of the year-end honor? So who would be the year end number 1? Lots of potential but the final fell flat. Murray swept away an uninspired and sluggish Djokovic in straight sets.
During the final of the year-end Championships it was clear that Djokovic did not play his best, but with some rest during the off-season, in 2017 he will hopefully get back to the high level of play that we expect from him.
As for 2017, Murray should be able to keep the number 1 spot for the first half of the year. Djokovic had a brilliant run early in 2016, and for those who are not aware, the ATP rankings are partially based on defending points from last year. Unless Djokovic does better than he did in early 2016, when he won the Australian Open, Key Biscayne, Madrid, Rome & the French Open, just to name a few, he will actually lose ranking points. Whereas, Murray will just have to do well at the Australian open. If he matches his performance from 2016 and makes it to the finals of the Australian, he will actually gain points just by doing ok at Key Biscayne and Indian Wells where he lost in the round of 32.
In 2017, it will be interesting to see if Djokovic can recover his sparkling form of the past, & if Murray can keep up the amazing form that won him 5 tournaments(wow) in a row if you include the ATP World Tour Finals. I just hope that they both play well. If they do, it will be an amazing match up. They are both great champions!