It took 24 straight wins for Andy Murray to finally secure the year-end world number one ranking on Sunday. He had to beat the man who had held that ranking for more than two consecutive years at the season finale.
Murray had to earn it the hard way. After months being number two, he proved his mettle with five titles in a row to claim the cherished spot. Before beating the Serb in the final of the ATP finals, Murray had to overcome Milos Raonic in three gruelling sets in a little under four hours.
For someone who used to get visibly tired in long matches, Murray has come a long way.
"I had a great year this year but I only managed to do it by one match. So to repeat that again next year is going to be extremely difficult. But now that I have got there I would be extremely motivated to stay in that position. The Majors are what gets me working hard, and what really, really motivates me when I go away in December to train, I am training with the Australian Open in mind. And because the best of five set matches are the ones that you really have to put in the extra work for, and the extra training for, that's what motivates me," he said after the win.
This has been by far Murray's best year, with his personal best of nine titles which included a second Wimbledon crown and a second Olympic gold in Rio.
Personally for me, Murray was a quintessential also-ran for a while. This is not to be critical of him as he is playing in the era of three of the best male players the world of tennis has seen in Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
But when his shoulders dropped and he began to swear at the demons in his head in tough matches, you wondered, like everyone else, if he was ever going to win the big matches against the big three. Of course, he did lose four Grand Slam finals before winning his first, a distinction he shared with his then coach Ivan Lendl.
The last of those finals came at Wimbledon 2012. That was when the way I looked at him changed. Murray lost to Roger Federer and shed tears of extreme pain. It was a historic event as Murray became the first Briton to contest the Wimbledon men's singles final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
|Andy Murray beat Novak Djokovic to win ATP World Tour Finals title. (Photo: Reuters)|
Nothing in that defeat margin of 6-4, 5-7, 3-6, 4-6 will tell you it was any different or extremely hard fought. But the tennis Murray played in that match was exceptional. From a base line slugger, he had morphed into an offensive player and that match was perhaps the first complete look at the new Murray. For the first time I found myself rooting for the Scot.
It is not a coincidence that Murray went on to win the Olympic gold, beating Federer just two weeks later at the same court. In my mind, and perhaps in his mind, body and soul too, Murray was now a world beater. And a year later he came back to win his first Wimbledon title, sending Britain into a tizzy.
That Wimbledon title could have worked two ways. It could have been extreme satisfaction at achieving a long-chased goal that leads to a drop in your level. After all, the monkey was off his back. A British male player had finally won Wimbledon after 77 years.
Or it could be the step to further greatness. It was the latter for Murray who worked tirelessly to keep at it. He is fitter, serves better, comes to the net more than before while keeping his consistent defensive game intact.
The fact that Murray had to win this season decider to stay at number one shows how competitive it is at the very top. Djokovic had held the numero uno spot since July 2014 with his second Wimbledon title and looked invincible for a large stretch of this period.
He had won the season finale of the top 8 players four years in a row from 2012 to 2015 apart from five other slams. Breaking that dominance in itself is a true achievement. From being one among the Big 4, Murray is now in a glorious position of being and staying the top dog for many weeks.
"Maybe now, especially the last few months when I have had that goal there and have been trying to get there, I want to stay there. I don’t feel too high just now, I feel good - and I feel motivated to keep going. I have enjoyed the last five, six months the most I have in all of my career. That is probably because I have won a lot, so I want to keep going," he said.
It is remarkable what Murray has achieved by virtue of his hard work and dedication. His story is a reminder that against insurmountable odds, you can achieve the greatest. A reminder that it is not always about being the most talented. He is no longer the "boring Brit", but the "brave Brit". He is in true sense a sporting hero.