When John Isner’s backhand volley hit the tape and fell back on match point, Andy Murray turned toward his player box, hopped in the air and ... smiled. It was a wider smile than we’re used to seeing from the saturnine Scot, and it lasted a little longer.
Why wouldn’t he savor this moment? With his win over Isner in the BNP Paribas Masters final, Murray, at age 29 and after more than a decade on tour, found himself at a new career summit. The previous day, he had become the No. 1 player in the world for the first time, and for the last two hours and 18 minutes he had demonstrated to a packed house in Paris exactly why he belonged there.
Murray’s 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4 win over the American ace machine was his 20th straight, dating back to the U.S Open nearly two months ago. It left him with a tour-high 73 wins (against nine losses) and eight titles in 2016. It was his third championship at a Masters event this season, and his first in 10 tries in Paris.
Most impressive of all, it left Murray 60-5 since April, a run of excellence that began with his second win over Novak Djokovic in 14 tries, in Rome; took him to his first French Open final; earned him a second Wimbledon title and second Olympic singles gold medal; and left him in a place that many never believed he could go: the top of the men’s tennis heap. Since 2004, only three players—Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic—have occupied that spot. Now Murray has cemented his place in the Big Four forever.
Murray’s win over Isner on Sunday served as a microcosm of his winning streak, and his 2016 season. Through the week, the 6’10” Isner had used the quick court and controlled conditions to play his most imposing tennis of the year, and against Murray he hit 18 aces and 52 winners. But Murray won because he always had the extra shot, and exactly the right shot, when he needed it. He won by out-rallying Isner, by dipping passing shots at his feet, by moving him off the baseline with smart, safe, short backhands and—miracle of tennis miracles—by getting a lob over the big man’s head.