“Why would you say that?” Andy Murray screamed after missing a volley at 5-4 in the first set of his final against Roberto Bautista Agut in Shanghai on Sunday.

Who the “you” was in that question wasn’t immediately clear. Was it someone in Murray’s player box? Was it the chair umpire who was getting on his nerves? Was it Murray himself? Had an awful memory from a bad first date years ago suddenly crossed his mind? More important, why would Murray be angry with what someone had said, rather than with what he had just done to lose the previous point?

As is often the case with Murray, there were no easy answers to what was going on in his mind or coming out of his mouth against Bautista Agut. But it didn’t stop there.

“His chuntering,” commentator Jason Goodall said of Murray after he had been broken for 5-5, “has turned into a relentless barrage.”

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There was, to be fair, more than the normal amount of pressure on Murray in this match. It wasn’t just that he was playing a Masters 1000 final against an opponent who had beaten Novak Djokovic the previous day. This time, for one of the first times in his decade-long career, Murray was also playing for the No. 1 ranking. With Djokovic’s defeat in the semifinals, Murray had a chance to narrow the gap, significantly, between himself and the Serb in the race for the year-end top spot.

Half a dozen times, Murray started his service motion, only to stop, stare toward into the crowd and start over again. Who did he see there? He spent an entire game muttering to himself, to his box, to his racquet and to the chair umpire about a Bautista Agut challenge that he thought had come too late. And with a chance to close out the first set on his serve at 5-4, Murray seemed to talk himself into being broken.

Was this going to be a repeat of his quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori at the U.S. Open? That was also a match with implications for the race to No. 1. It was also a match that, midway through, was Murray’s to lose. And it was a match that Murray, after letting himself be distracted by a loud noise that rung out in the middle of a point, ended up losing.

Fortunately for Murray, Bautista Agut is not Nishikori. In the first-set tiebreaker, the Spaniard let Murray off the hook and allowed him to refocus by making three straight unforced errors to go down 1-5, When Murray finished the breaker with a vicious backhand return winner he was back in command, and he stayed in that position through the second set. His 7-6 (1), 6-1 win gave him his 41st career title—tying him with Stefan Edberg for 15th on the all-time ATP list—his 13th Masters title and his third on the fast courts in Shanghai. Most important, he drew within 915 points of Djokovic in the race. If Murray wins in Vienna and Paris, he can pull ahead of him.

“I did feel like I played better this week than last week,” said Murray, who completed his first Beijing-Shanghai double without dropping a set. “In all the matches I was hitting [the] ball pretty clean.”

“I believe I can get there,” he said of the No. 1 ranking. “These last few months have proved that to me. I’ll give it my best shot to do it, because I may never get another chance.”

From the evidence in Shanghai, Murray’s best chance is for him to stay as single-minded as possible. He played his best tennis last week when he leaned on his big serve down the T, and when he left his defensive-minded baseline game behind and dictated with his forehand whenever he could. Murray has always been skeptical about trying to be ultra-aggressive because he thinks it can throw him out of his usual, ultra-consistent rhythm, and he doesn’t like to miss. But making a few more mistakes is OK when you’re forcing more errors from your opponent.

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It was hardly a coincidence that, against Bautista Agut, Murray began to hit his forehand more tentatively right at the moment when he began “chuntering” at 5-4 in the first set. The nerves, the angry barrage of words, the tentative strokes: They all came at once, just when he had a chance to put away the first set. This time, with a little help from his opponent, he got over them all; but as he continues to pursue Djokovic and the No. 1 ranking over the next month, those nerves are going to return.

Murray knows, as he said, that this might be a once-in-a-career opportunity; the fact that he has said publicly that he’s going to do whatever he can to get to No. 1 is a good sign—he’s putting himself on the line for this. The more he trusts his game, and his forehand, the better. He can worry about who said what, and why, later.