Tim Henman has backed Andy Murray for a tilt at the world number one ranking next spring.
The Scot enjoyed the best period of his career this summer, reaching seven consecutive finals and winning a second Wimbledon title and Olympic gold medal.
He remains more than 4,000 points behind world number one Novak Djokovic but the gap has reduced significantly.
Djokovic won four straight titles to end 2015, culminating in the ATP World Tour Finals in London, and then began 2016 by beating Murray in the final of the Australian Open and winning Masters titles in Indian Wells and Miami.
Henman, who will be playing Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall later this year, told Press Association Sport: “I think it’s going to be difficult this year but certainly early next year he’s got a good chance.
“He didn’t play well in Indian Wells or Miami (this year) so come March or April time it’s going to be interesting.
“It hasn’t really been a realistic prospect for Andy before because the number one player has always been so dominant, be that Roger, Rafa or Novak.
“But over the last six months he’s not far off being level on points with Novak. He’s got a lot to play for.”
Murray went into the US Open in many people’s eyes as the favourite for a grand slam title for the first time but was undone in five sets by Kei Nishikori.
The Scot appeared in control at two sets to one up but, holding break point, he allowed himself to become irritated by a loud noise that interrupted play and could not regain the initiative.
One strength of the relationship between Murray and coach Ivan Lendl is widely held to be the positive impact on the Scot’s demeanour on court, but that was certainly not the case in New York.
Henman put the lapse down to fatigue, saying: “For months he played incredible tennis with amazing consistency.
“What he achieved by beating Djokovic to win the Masters title in Rome then getting to his first French Open final, making the final at all four grand slams, and winning Wimbledon again and the Olympics again was amazing.
“I think the Nishikori match was the previous six months catching up with him.”
Djokovic heads into the final stretch of the season with question marks hanging over him following a final loss to Stan Wawrinka in New York.
Having put himself right in the argument for greatest player of all time by winning the French Open to hold all four slam titles, the 29-year-old went on to lose early at both Wimbledon and the Olympics.
“When you set the bar that high there’s only one way to go,” said Henman.
“But he’s world number one, he’s won two grand slams this year and been in another final. That’s a blip a lot of players would settle for. I still think he’s got a lot of great tennis ahead of him.”
• Tim Henman will be playing Champions Tennis at the Royal Albert Hall from Nov 30 - Dec 4 2016, with SportsAid as the Official Charity partner to raise funds for aspiring British athletes. Tickets are available from £18.50