October 16, 2011

The Right Way to Finish

Most of the headlines of 2011 have understandably focused on the impressive streak which began Novak Djokovic's year. His 64-3 record, ten titles and three Major trophies is one of the best runs in tennis history. And with the year-end #1 ranking all tied up now, he's broken ground few have ever tread before. But as the Serb takes a couple weeks off to recover from what's been a very intense schedule, it seems it's time for someone else to take over.

Andy Murray came to Shanghai as the defending champion and fresh off titles in Bangkok and Tokyo. Since mid-August, he'd put together twenty-one wins and just a single loss -- to Rafael Nadal at the U.S. Open, certainly nothing to be embarrassed by. As the second seed this week, he was one of the few favorites to survive the early rounds -- Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Mardy Fish and even Nadal all suffered early losses, allowing tricky players like Feliciano Lopez and Kei Nishikori into the semis. And though Murray had the benefit of a first round bye and a second round walkover, he took out his next three opponents in fairly short order, dropping just three games in less than an hour of play with Nishikori to make his sixth final of the year.

The only other seed to make it to the final four was David Ferrer, himself a two-time titleist this year and a runner-up in Monte Carlo, among others. The world #5 had a slightly more difficult path, though, toughing out a win over promising youngster Milos Raonic, rebounding from a set down against former #1 Juan Carlos Ferrero and fighting off a stubborn Andy Roddick in the quarters. He even needed more than two hours to dismiss his countryman Lopez, who'd already taken care of Janko Tipsarevic, Tomas Berdych and Rafa's vanquisher Florian Mayer.

After such a week, it shouldn't be too shocking that Murray had the upper hand in the final. Though Ferrer had won a respectable three of their seven previous matches, each victory came on clay and he had only taken one set off the Scot on any other surface. Murray kicked off the match by breaking the Spaniard's serve, and though the score was immediately evened up he did manage to get the lead back. The second set played out in similar fashion, and when all was said and done, Murray was able to secure the win, his fifth of 2011 and his eighth Masters crown.

The win does more than add to Murray's trophy chest. As of Monday's rankings, he'll be back in the top three for the first time since March of last year and, maybe more interestingly, ahead of Roger Federer, who'll be at his lowest position in over eight years. There are still a few weeks of play left in the season, though, and this is certainly not the time for Murray to start coasting.

If he's able to keep up his momentum and end the year like Djokovic started it, he might finally be able to make that breakthrough everyone's been waiting for.

No comments: