Andy Murray is master of the tennis universe
The new world No.1 ascended to the top of the rankings tree without striking a ball in earnest when Milos Raonic, the tall, powerful but injury-prone Canadian, pulled out of their semi-final at the BNP Paribas Masters with a torn quad muscle.
Once Novak Djokovic had lost on Friday in the quarter-finals, all Murray had to do was reach the final in Paris and the No.1 spot was his. And now Raonic had ushered him through to greatness with a default, leaving Murray to hit a few balls with his coach to keep the punters happy. No wonder his mind was elsewhere as he struggled to get the ball over the net with Delgado.
When the moment came, the culmination of eye-watering consistency this year and a lifetime of work to get himself to this point, Murray did not know what to think. Of all the possible scenarios this was the only one he hadn’t planned for.
“I actually felt quite calm,” he said. “I think that’s just because of the nature of how it happened. Normally if you’re told someone has pulled out, you immediately start thinking about the next day and what you’re going to do. But I didn’t really react. I didn’t really react.
“My team were a bit different, but I didn’t really react to it at the time. They just said, ‘well done’, gave me a hug and chatted about it. They said ‘well done, you deserve it, and we know how hard you’ve worked to get here’ and stuff. That was it.
“I was actually in the locker room watching some videos of Milos’s match from yesterday when Milos came into the room where we were. I quickly closed the iPad! Then he told us he had hurt his quad and he wasn’t going to be able to play.
“But I felt like getting to No.1, it wasn’t about this week and it wasn’t just about last week or a few days here and there. It’s about 12 months of work to get there.”
The return of Ivan Lendl to the Murray camp at Queen’s Club coincided with the start of his most consistent run of results – he has only lost three matches since Lendl joined the team and he has won six of his seven titles this year with his impassive coach. But his push for the top started during the clay court season with runner-up finishes in Roland Garros and Madrid and the title in Rome and, he thinks, his whole mind-set changed when he became a father.
“Becoming a parent would be the best, and the most life-changing of the things that have happened this year,” he said. “It helps, for sure. But you still have to put that work in. Having a kid does change things for you.
“For me, at the end of days, getting to see my kid and have something to take my mind away from tennis – it made tennis not the most important thing anymore – I think that helped.
“But I still had to put in a lot of hard work, win a lot of matches. I had a lot of support and sacrifices that my team made for me as well. There’s a lot of things that go into it. But having a kid made my mind work a bit differently.”
It is only recently that Murray had contemplated the idea of becoming the world No.1. For as long as he has been playing, he has had Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in front of him. As they were mopping up the titles and banking the ranking points, they seemed untouchable.
The very fact that he has now claimed the top spot in such an era gives Murray the greatest satisfaction. He is only the 26th man to hold the No.1 ranking since they began in 1973 and he is only the fourth man in the past 13 years to climb to the top. Since Federer first climbed to the peak of the mountain, only he, Djokovic and Nadal have seen the view from the top. And now it is Murray’s turn.
“I think that’s the most satisfying thing, really,” he said. “It’s been such a difficult thing to do during my career because of how good the guys around me have been, the guys ahead of me.
“Even this year, the year I have had to have to even be there for one week and be like 20 points ahead or whatever it is. I have had to win so many matches and get to the latter stage of pretty much every tournament that I have played.
“It’s just been really, really hard to do it, been really difficult. Obviously they are three of the best players that have ever played the game and had some of the years that they have had in that period, as well, have been, ridiculous, really, like winning three slams and double slams and many Masters Series, as well. So it’s taken a great year to get there.”
Murray knows what it feels like to stand in the shadow of the three greats: he has reached 11 grand slam finals and won three of them. And when he has lost, he has lost to Federer or Djokovic. So the thought of chasing down Djokovic for the top ranking had a familiar feel to it. But getting there was a unique experience, one that he will not forget.
“It’s something I never expected to do, never thought I was going to do,” he said. “When you’re behind the guys that I was behind, it’s kind of difficult to keep believing, keep working to try to get there.
“With the slams and stuff, I’d been quite close a lot of times. I felt not what it was like to win but what it was like to be close. I’d never really been close to being No.1 before. I’d never experienced this, I didn’t know what it was going to feel like and if I was ever going to get there. It feels very different to how any of the slams felt.”
But as the Wimbledon champion, and with the No.1 spot on his racket, the ATP World Tour finals and the new season offer up a raft of new possibilities.