Back in June, when Novak Djokovic was master of the universe, conquering all before him, including Andy Murray, there seemed more chance of Scotland winning the World Cup – or at least, qualifying for one – than Andy Murray getting anywhere near the world number one spot, so far ahead was Djokovic from the rest of the field. Fast forward four months, and a successful Asian swing has left Murray a tantalisingly close 915 points behind Djokovic. Who’d a thunk it?
After his fruitless exertions in the Davis Cup against Argentina last month, Murray appeared exhausted and injured, and in sore need of a good, long rest. Yet Andy looked as fresh as a daisy as he won the Shanghai Masters on Sunday against tenacious Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 7-6, 6-1, without dropping a set during the whole tournament. This followed a win in the ATP 500 China Open last week, giving Murray a points haul of 1,500 in the space of two weeks to close the gap on Djokovic, who only played Shanghai and suffered a mini meltdown on his way out of the semi finals to Bautista Agut.
Now, Murray’s detractors will be itching to point out that he didn’t beat anyone of note, but, hey, you can only beat who is in front of you. However, the one thing Andy deserves immense credit for is his ‘bouncebackability’. I must confess, after that French Open defeat to Djokovic, following on from losing to him in yet another Australian Open final, I did wonder whether Andy had hit the buffers and would ever win another Grand Slam again. Then, barely a month later, with the inscrutable Ivan Lendl safely tucked back in his corner, wham, he was the Wimbledon champion. And then, Olympic champion. With Novak hurtling alarmingly to base after reaching his personal summit at Roland Garros, Andy seemed to be in the ascendancy. Under Lendl’s positive influence he looked a different beast: more controlled, more positive, less irritable. A newer Andy. The US Open was his for the taking.
Only he couldn’t take it. Against Nishikori in the quarter finals, the old demons came raging back, derailing him at a crucial time. To rub salt in the wound, Stan Wawrinka won the US Open, his third Grand Slam out of three, illustrating his big match mentality. For all of Andy’s consistency over the years and junior membership of the ‘Big Four’, Stan again had the same number of Grand Slams as him. That brutal US Open loss in five frustrating sets, which Andy really ought to have won, was followed by an even more gruelling defeat against Del Potro in the Davis Cup, with Andy regressing once more to his trademark passive and grumbling self. It looked like New Andy would be just a fleeting summer phenomenon.
But once again, after a bit of rest and recuperation, he has come bouncing back. He has an ATP 500 in Vienna next week, followed by the final Masters of the season in Paris, plus the World Tour Finals in London, to do what has gone from being impossible to unlikely to maybe. Of course, Andy being Andy, nothing is ever straightforward. The pendulum keeps swinging, but Andy keeps going. Perhaps soon, to the very top.