Andy Murray can Become World #1–Possibly Next Week

From LastWordOnTennis, by Yesh Ginsburg.

Novak Djokovic is the defending champion at the Paris (Bercy) Masters 1000 event held next week. He may very well need to win that tournament again to retain his World #1 ranking.

In a stunning situation that would have been all-but unthinkable to the most ardent of Andy Murray supporters a few months ago, the Brit actually has a realistic path to taking over the top ranking. It’s not too crazy to go so far as to call it “likely.”

Djokovic has held the top ranking for over two years now, and has had a true stranglehold on the spot for much of the past 52 weeks, with a lead that topped out at over 6,000 points (the equivalent points of winning three Grand Slam tournaments). In fact, the lead still sits at almost 2,500 points, which is why many think that these claims that Murray is currently in range are just wishful thoughts from die-hard fans. Well, the fact is that these claims are absolutely correct.

Leaving aside the fact that Djokovic has looked vulnerable (and been beaten) on several occasions since Wimbledon, which we will get to later, let’s just start with the basic numbers. How far behind is Murray, and what does he need to do to bridge that gap?

Andy Murray can Become World #1

Currently, Djokovic has 12,900 points, to just 10,485 for Murray. That is a sizable gap, but one that will shrink rapidly. Murray is playing in Vienna this week while Djokovic is taking this week to rest. A win for Murray would cut the gap to less than 2,000 points for the first time in well over a year.

In reality, though, those 2,000 points are actually less than 1,000. For every tournament played during the season, points earned the previous year (meaning 2015 results when talking about current rankings) drop off after 52 weeks. Aside from some scheduling quirks, that means that the results earned last year drop off after this year’s tournament in played. Meaning, since Djokovic won Paris-Bercy last year and earned 1,000 points for it, those points won’t drop off until after Paris-Bercy is played this year. There is one very notable exception–the ATP World Tour Finals.

The points earned during last year’s Tour Finals drop off before this year’s Tour Finals are played. The logic is simple. Since the season is essentially a “race” to earn points to the Tour Finals, it doesn’t make sense to count last year’s Tour Finals in the rankings. While we can debate the soundness of such logic (and I am sure Djokovic fans will not like it if it ends up hurting their player), that is how the rankings system is set up.

At last year’s World Tour Finals, Djokovic earned 1,300 points for winning two round robin matches, the semifinals, and the final. Murray, on the other hand, only won one round robin match, netting him 200 points. When those numbers drop off after this year’s Paris-Bercy tournament, it eliminated 1,100 points of Djokovic’s lead without giving the Serbian a chance to earn them back first.

In essence, Djokovic’s lead this season is down to less than 1,000 points already. If Murray can win the title in Vienna–where the seeds and his best competition have been dropping like flies–the lead will essentially be a measly 825 points when the final Masters of the seasons starts next week. Last year in Bercy, Djokovic earned 1,000 points for winning the title. Murray was the runner-up and earned 600 points for his effort.

This means that Murray will effectively be chasing 425 points in Bercy. If Djokovic reaches the final, Murray will not have a way to take World #1 that week. If Djokovic doesn’t, though, then a Murray title would move him to the top spot. If Djokovic loses early (before the quarterfinals) or doesn’t play the tournament, all Murray will need to do to become World #1 is to reach the final. Of course, Murray’s lead at #1 would be tiny, and a few little things (or big things, like the following week’s Tour Finals) could swing it back to Djokovic, but as we’ll explain later, Murray should be able to solidify it by April.

What happens if Murray can’t quite take the top spot next week? What will be his next chance?

Giving precise numbers will be difficult without knowing exactly what happens in Vienna this week and in Bercy next week. Djokovic’s lead on November 7th could be as small as 25 points or as big as 1815 points. But assuming Murray keeps it in a reasonable range, he will have plenty of opportunities in the following months to take the top spot.

For starters, 1,500 points will be up for grabs at the World Tour Finals, and Murray does seem fresher and in better condition than Djokovic at this point in the season. And while Djokovic does have a much higher success rate than Murray against other top players, that won’t matter in a particular tournament if Murray is in better form. (Also, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, two players that Murray struggles most against, won’t be playing this year.)

After that, things look bright for Murray for a little while. Since Djokovic won the Indian Wells and Miami Masters tournaments in March and April, respectively, he has earned a total of 6,260 points. In that same time span, and not counting this week’s results in Vienna, Murray has earned 8,120 points. There is still a lot of tennis to be played until next April, but that is a pretty sizable gap. Even if Djokovic can match last year’s results–a win in Bercy and 1,300 points at the World Tour Finals–he will probably still be trailing Murray since April heading into the 2017 season. Djokovic has over 4,000 points to defend from January until April. If Murray can make any inroads during that time, or if Djokovic suffers a shocking upset at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, or Miami, it will be very difficult for the Serbian to hold on to the #1 spot.

Murray can become #1 as early as November 7th, after the Paris Masters in Bercy this coming week. Even if he doesn’t, though, all he has to do is be consistent until April and the top spot will be his.

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