SLOWLY but surely, week by week, all the boxes are being ticked as Andy Murray goes through his checklist.
From starting the year with a run to the final of the Australian Open, the Scot has built on his every achievement until now he is champion of the Rogers Cup in Montreal and the new No 2 in the world pecking order. He is hitting his prime in time for the US Open.
His three-set, three-hour defeat of Novak Djokovic on Sunday night in the sweltering heat of the Canadian summer was not only impressive, it was also vitally important. For all the strides Murray has made this season, the one obstacle he could not seem to overcome was the world No 1. He is not alone in that, mind you, as Djokovic had lost only three matches since January when he took to the court for the final.
The two men were once neck and neck in their career rivalry but Murray had not beaten his old foe since the Wimbledon final in 2013. And he had lost four times to the Serb in the past eight months.
“There’s always things you feel like you can improve upon,” said Murray. “But I felt like this week has been a step forward for me. It’s great to have that test at this part of the season, a few weeks before New York.”
By reaching the final, Murray was guaranteed to overtake Roger Federer in the rankings and take his place behind Djokovic in the world order. The two have been clearly ahead of everyone else this year thanks to their relentless consistency and by winning his fourth title of 2015 and his second Masters trophy of the season, Murray proved the point beyond doubt.
“It’s nice to get back there [to No 2],” he said. “I did it the first time here. I can’t remember the exact year. But it was a number of years ago. It’s nice to get back there, especially after everything I went through last year with the surgery and dropping out of the top 10, a lot of questions being asked about how my game was physically and stuff. It’s good to get back close to the top. I’ll keep working hard and try to get that one spot higher.”
He will attempt to make that last, great breakthrough without the help of his coach, Amelie Mauresmo. While her charge was sweating his way to glory, she was back at home celebrating the birth of her son on Sunday morning and Murray dedicated his win to her. As presents go, it was considerably more imaginative than a teddy bear.
‘’My coach Amelie Mauresmo is back home,” Murray said on court. “She gave birth to a baby boy this morning – I’m not sure she will have stayed up to watch this one. I’m sure she was a little bit tired, but, Amelie, this one’s for you, thank you.
“I don’t know much detail. I haven’t spoken to her. I’d imagine she’s quite tired. Probably me and my tennis are the last thing on her mind just now, which is totally understandable.”
Until she returns from maternity leave, Jonas Bjorkman is in the coaching hot seat – and his record with Murray so far is remarkable. In the four events where Bjorkman has been in sole charge, the Scot has won three trophies: Munich, Queen’s and now Montreal. On Sunday, Murray was aggressive – something that Mauresmo had tried to instil into him – and he was able to maintain his focus even when it looked as if Djokovic was launching a comeback in the third set. That has been a key element to Murray’s game since Bjorkman joined the team.
But knocking Djokovic off his perch at the very top of the tree will take some doing and Murray is not getting carried away with his recent success. This week, he will start all over again at the Cincinnati Masters (he plays either Mardy Fish in his opening match) and, from there, the tour moves to New York to settle in for the US Open which starts on 31 August. There is a lot of work to be done and many brutal matches to play before Murray’s North American stay is over.
“I lost in the first round of a tournament last week in a match many probably weren’t expecting me to lose,” Murray pointed out, referring to his second-round loss to Teymuraz Gabashvili 10 days ago. “Things can get better very quickly and they can get worse very quickly in sport, so it’s important for me to analyse what went well this week and things I can still improve on.’’
What Djokovic will go away and analyse is the fact that Murray is no longer browbeaten by the w--orld No 1. In so many of their recent matches, the Scot has let slip winning leads against his oldest rival – and then there were times where he simply looked beaten as he walked on court. But, with this big and important win under his belt, Murray can redraw the battle lines at the US Open. And winning a third grand slam title is the last box for the world No 2 to tick this year.