By the end of October 2016, only three men – Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic – had been ranked No.1 in the world for a staggering 12-year-period. This trio’s dominance went all the way back to February 2004. Consider that in the dozen prior to then, 14 men had held that spot.

But the tennis ball takes its bounces. A knee injury suffered at Wimbledon ended Federer’s 2016 season that July. Nadal withdrew early from Roland Garros, skipped Wimbledon and played only four matches after the US Open. Djokovic, who’d at last won the title at Roland-Garros to earn a career sweep of all four majors, suffered a slight letdown, losing in the third round of Wimbledon and winning but one title after June.

Meanwhile, Andy Murray sustained wire-to-wire momentum. Ranked No.2 at the start of the year, Murray commenced 2016 with a runner-up effort at the Australian Open. In the spring, he played the best clay-court tennis of his career, beating Nadal in the semis of Madrid, Djokovic in the finals of Rome, and going all the way to the singles final at Roland Garros. From there, Murray made a seamless transition into the grass season, taking the title at Queens Club and, for the second time, raising the champion’s trophy at Wimbledon. Next, it was off to the Rio Olympics, where Murray became the only man to win the gold medal in singles twice.

Still, by October, Murray remained in the number two spot.


And then came one of the most remarkable runs in recent tennis history. In Asia, Murray won ten straight matches, taking titles in Beijing and Shanghai. A fast week to recover and then Murray came to Vienna – and won another tournament.

On October 31, 2016, as play began at the BNP Paribas Masters 1000 event held in Paris, Murray knew he could start the next week ranked number one in the world if he reached the finals.

Several factors made Murray’s opening match exceptionally challenging. Arguably, fatigue and pressure entered the picture. But certainly, there was a dangerous opponent, Fernando Verdasco, the slashing lefthander who on a given day could beat anyone in the world. Though Murray led this rivalry 11-1 prior to Paris, Verdasco’s one victory had come at a major (the ’09 Australian Open). And at Wimbledon in 2013, the Spaniard had won the first two sets before losing, 7-5 in the fifth. In Paris, over the course of nearly two-and-a-half hours, Murray squeaked past Verdasco, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 7-5.

The next three rounds were easier. Murray beat Lucas Pouille and Tomas Berdych in straight sets. Alas, for all the work he’d done to come close to the top, Murray’s arrival there was made easy when Milos Raonic withdrew from their semifinal match.

Murray had broken Djokovic’s 122-week hold on the No.1 ranking. “To get to No. 1 isn’t about today, but it’s about 12 months of tournaments to get to this stage,” said Murray in an story. “The last few months have been the best of my career and I am very proud to have reached No. 1. It has been a goal of mine for the past few years.”

He went on to win Paris, defeating John Isner in the finals, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4.

Later in the month, Murray squared off with Djokovic in the finals of the ATP World Tour Finals. The stakes were high: For the first time in history, whoever won this match would earn the year-end number one ranking.

Murray won that match, 6-3, 6-4. It was the first time a British man had finished the year ranked number one in the world since Fred Perry had done that way back in 1936.