Monday, November 21, 2016

Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber at the top of the tennis world

We have a new king and a new queen in tennis!

Andy Murray finished the year at #1 with a straight sets victory over Novak Djokovic in the final of ATP Tour World Finals in London. This was the first time in a very long time that the year-end #1 ranking would be determined by the final match of the year. For Andy Murray to maintain the #1 ranking which he earned a couple of weeks ago, he would have to match or exceed Novak's results. Since both of them won all their round-robin matches and got to the finals, the winner of the title would also take the year-end #1 ranking.

I personally thought that Novak was a lock to win. First, he has a very solid head-to-head win percentage against Andy and he has in fact won 14 of their last 15 matches. Also, Novak seemed to be fresher. Andy played the longest-ever ATP tour finals match against Milos Raonic in the semis and the second longest-ever ATP tour finals match against Kei Nishikori earlier in the week. On the other hand, Novak barely broke a sweat in his semifinal match against Nishikori, losing only two games in a match that lasted just a little over an hour. He was the fresher of the two going into the finals. As it turned out, Murray ended up remaining steadier and he capitalized on Novak's untimely errors to win his first ever ATP Tour finals trophy and become only the 17th man to be ranked #1 since the rankings were started in 1973. Note also that the Olympics do not grant any ranking points. If they did, Murray would have an even greater lead at the top of the ATP than he does now.

I am really impressed with Andy Murray this year, especially in the second half. Apart from the fact that the is now on a 24-match winning streak, he had to really fight hard. While you could tell he really wanted to become #1, he didn't succumb to the pressure as many other players do when faced with an opportunity to take the top ranking. There were many, many wobbly moments over the last few months where Murray was very close to losing - the semis against Milos Raonic is an example - but somehow he was always able to just take that one extra step and get that one extra ball back to keep on winning. When he finally won the ATP tour finals, he actually looked more relieved than happy. His brother, Jamie Murray, also ended the year as part of the #1 ranked doubles team, so you can expect a lot of celebrating in the Murray clan over the Christmas holidays.

On the women's side, Angelique Kerber was assured of retaining her #1 ranking through to the end of the year when Serena Williams called it a season after the US Open. She, however, didn't have quite as much success as Murray, losing to Dominika Cibulkovรก in the finals of the WTA Tour Finals. In fact, after the US Open, Kerber didn't win any other tournaments. Still, her consistency throughout the year and Serena's decision to end her year prematurely ensured that Kerber would remain #1 until the end of the year.

This is the first time since 2008 that the year-end #1 number players on both the ATP and the WTA are both first-timers. (In 2008, Rafael Nadal and Jelena Jankovic both ended the year ranked #1.)
Given how things turned ou in the tennis world this year, I am quite intrigued to see how things will turn out in 2017. For now, all the players deserve a pretty good rest.

Congratulations, Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber!

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