Since beating Roger Federer to win the Shanghai Masters 12 months ago, he has notched up one achievement after another.
He reached his second straight Australian Open final. He came within inches of beating Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the semi-finals of the Monte Carlo and Rome Masters. He became the first British man to reach three consecutive Wimbledon semis since Fred Perry.
Then in August he won his seventh Masters title in Cincinnati to begin what is now a streak of 25 wins in 26 matches.
In New York he became only the seventh man in the Open era to reach all four Grand Slam semi-finals. And in recording one of the finest Asian swings on record, with back-to-back titles in Bangkok, Tokyo and now Shanghaiâ€”including his first defeat of world No2 Nadal in five attempts this yearâ€”Murray has shown himself worthy of his new world ranking.
For with the 1000 points he has gained in defending his Shanghai title, Murray has also leapfrogged Roger Federer to No3â€”the first time in his career that he has stood above the mighty Swiss.
Murray went into the Shanghai final as favourite not simply because of his run of form since winning the Cincinnati Masters in August but also because he held a 100 per cent record on hard courts over his opponent, the feisty, hard-working David Ferrer.
The Spaniardâ€™s cause was hardly helped by their respective runs to the final, either. Where Murray had played just three matches, seven sets and 60 games, Ferrer had faced four tough opponents, played 11 setsâ€”four of them tie-breakersâ€”and 122 games. That kind of schedule on the back of a semi-final run in Tokyo is tough even for the battery-powered Ferrer.
Despite all the factors in his favourâ€”including winning seven Masters titles from eight previous finalsâ€”Murray knew he had a fight on his hands.
The Spaniard is riding a wave of form of his own this year that has taken him to No5 in the rankings for the first time in three years. His increasingly aggressive tennis against Andy Roddick and Feliciano Lopez in the quarters and semisâ€”equalling the ace counts of both at 11 a matchâ€”was impressive.
In his opening service game, however, Ferrer looked nervous and lack-lustre by his bustling standards. He was taken to five deuces before Murray capitalised on a second break point chance to take the 10-minute game.
Murrayâ€™s first service game suggested that he too was nervous and Ferrer also took advantage of two break point opportunities. It was all square, both in games and in unforced errorsâ€”six apiece.
They then settled down into some rhythmic, baseline tennis that tested and probed each other all the way to 5-5. Murray, though, served the better, dropping only three points on his 70 per cent of first serves. Ferrer, after his excellent serving display of the last few days, floundered in the mid-40s and this proved to be decisive in the 11th game.
A clutch of uncharacteristic errors, finished off by a double fault, gave a timely break of serve to Murray and the Scot served out the set, 7-5.
It was far from perfect tennisâ€”35 unforced errors between them. It was, instead, a waiting game in which patience was a virtue.
With one set under his beltâ€”and a switch from black to a more upbeat scarlet shirtâ€”Murray began to go on the offensive. Ferrer struggled to contain the depth and pace of the Murray ground strokesâ€”particularly strong from the forehand wingâ€”and over-reached on both his serve and from the baseline. Murray broke in the opening game.
The Scot, in turn, waveredâ€”just as he had in the first setâ€”and two double faults helped the Spaniard to pull the break back. But Ferrerâ€™s first serve percentage still languished in the low 40s, and the Murray return game was so strong that Ferrer was able to score on fewer than half his second serves.
Murray quickly regrouped to force another break in the third game with a perfect cross-court lob winner. Again in fifth game, Murray had break points but Ferrer held the deficit to a single break.
Yet the match now had an inevitability about it. Murray played with increasing aggression, his forehand found a strong groove and he began to throw a few drop shots into the mix.
Ferrer, resilient character that he is, resisted more break points in the seventh with his only ace of the match and held again in the ninth but, in the end, all Ferrer could do was smile and shake hands after Murray served out the match, 6-4. The error count was high and evenly splitâ€”59 of themâ€”but Murray dominated with twice as many winners.
And so Murray completed his clean sweep in the Far East, rose to joint sixth in the list of Masters winners and to second place in the list of title-winners in 2011. He also climbs to No3 in the rankings and has his eyes set on staying there until the year end. That, and doing well at the World Tour Finals, are his two targets for the remainder of the year: â€œI want to keep my run going but Iâ€™m very happy with the way Iâ€™m playing.â€
And he should be. Murray has shown growing confidence, maturity andâ€”surely the key to his improved consistencyâ€”a more relaxed, happy demeanour with every passing month of 2011.
He talked, briefly, of adding Valencia or Basel to his schedule ahead of the final Masters of the year in Parisâ€”presumably to consolidate his ranking still further. He knows, though, that Federer will have to come back to the tour in top form to have any chance of outstripping Murray by December.
Last year, the Swiss won in Basel, was unbeaten at the WTFs and was a semi-finalist in Paris.
Only a huge falling-off in Murrayâ€™s form can change the order of things now. And looking at the Murray of today, the chances of that are slim to zero.
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