Andy Murray closes in on Novak Djokovic with win in Vienna

The chase is on. When last month Andy Murray assessed his chances of overtaking Novak Djokovic for the No 1 ranking, he did not sound too optimistic. According to his calculations, he needed to win almost every match between then and the end of the year and Djokovic needed to lose pretty much every match.

Andy Murray fires a return during his victory over Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. Picture: Getty.

So far, Murray has kept to his side of the bargain – yesterday he collected his third consecutive title by flattening Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3, 7-6 in Vienna – and Djokovic is doing likewise.

The once all-powerful Serb is not losing every match but while Murray has been mopping up the titles (yesterday’s win extended his match winning streak to 15 as he has won the silverware in Beijing, Shanghai and now Vienna), Djokovic has been taking it easy. He has only played in one event since the US Open – Shanghai – and he lost there in the semi-finals.

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With only two events left to play before the season ends, Murray is closing in on his target while Djokovic, unbeatable at this stage in the season for the past three seasons, is running out of time if he is to keep a firm grip on his position at the top of the rankings ladder.

As the two best players in the world prepare for the final Masters 1,000 tournament of the season in Paris, Murray has collected just 415 ranking points fewer than his great rival this season. There are 1,000 ranking points available to the winner in the French capital which means that by the end of this week, Murray could knock Djokovic off his perch if the Scot can win the title and if the Serb fails to reach the final.

That, though, is far too simplistic an analysis for Murray’s taste. He knows he has a lot of work to do in the coming days if he is to give himself a chance of reaching the very top of his sport. “Novak – I can’t control his results but I can control my own,” Murray said after yesterday’s final.

“Obviously, he could win the tournament in Paris
and if I lose in the first round then I’m a long way away again from being 
No 1, so saying ‘if you win the tournament and he 
loses before the semi-finals’ is like me having to win five more matches and win a Masters Series in Paris where I’ve never played that well.

“They’re really, really hard tournaments to win: you have to beat a lot of top 
players to do it and I’ve never won there before. So to expect that you’re just going to win would be silly.

“I need to get used to the 
conditions there, get some good practice in in the next couple of days and then play like I did today. Hopefully, if I can do that then I give myself a chance.”

And the way he played yesterday was impressive. Given an unexpected day off when David Ferrer withdrew from the semi-finals on Saturday without striking a ball (he had a leg injury), Murray ran away with the early stages of the Vienna final, racing to a set and 3-1 lead. But Tsonga dug in, fought back and levelled the second set at 4-4. But once into the second set tiebreak, 
Murray was not going to let the Frenchman take the match to a third set and with a final ace, he claimed his seventh title of the season.

Murray’s success has not gone unnoticed in the Djokovic camp. The current world No 1 has struggled since the French Open and plagued by a lack of motivation and a string of niggling injuries, he has only been able to watch as the Scot has gone from strength to strength.

“You’ve got to give him huge credit for what he has done in the last three, four months. Second part of the year, it’s quite incredible for him,” said Djokovic of Murray. “He won many matches, he’s playing maybe the best tennis that he has ever played. You know, very consistent, very strong.

“He definitely deserves to be in the position to finish up the year as No 1. Whether or not that’s going to happen, it doesn’t depend only on him. Depends on me, as well. Let’s see. We can’t predict the future or what these three weeks are going to be like, but I’m sure I can speak on his behalf as well that we are both taking one day at a time and we are both trying to get as far as we can only in this present tournament.”

Last year, Djokovic made mincemeat of Murray in the Paris final as the Serb collected his third consecutive trophy there. He then marched on London and won his fourth consecutive ATP World Tour Finals title. This is the part of the season where Djokovic usually sweeps all before him and as he familiarised himself with surroundings yesterday, he was certainly talking a good fight: he is feeling better, he is ready to compete and back in the city where he won the French Open title just five months ago and so completed the non-calendar year Grand Slam, he is in his element.

“It gives me a lot of great emotions and I guess butterflies in the stomach when I think of the last time I was in Paris and what has happened,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can finish the season as well as I was in the last couple of years. I had great records in the indoor season and always enjoyed playing in Paris and London.

“So we are coming to the finish line and I really do feel comfortable playing in the indoor events and in this surface. So I’m going to take the best out of myself. Right now everything is clearer and I guess is going in the right direction. I’m just focused right now in Paris.”

Djokovic’s biggest problem is that, right now, Murray is focused on Paris, too. And, right now, Murray is the man to beat. The chase is really on now.