Sunday’s 2016 ATP Beijing final will feature Scotland’s Andy Murray against Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov in a match that Murray should win. With World No. 1 Novak Djokovic injured, the reigning Wimbledon champion is more in the running for the year-end World No. 1 ranking than he has been at any other point in his career. The Beijing final certainly isn’t a huge match when it comes to the race for top spot, however, if Murray should win it then the result would still help close the gap between he and the Serb.
A couple weeks ago I speculated that the World No. 1 ranking might be at risk when Djokovic announced an injury. In my view, there hasn’t been enough attention paid to the topic. Perhaps that’s because the rankings race currently isn’t close at the top, however, both the Djokovic injury and the fact that Murray is in form still make a changing of the guard a reasonable possibility in my view.
If Murray defeated Dimitrov, then the Scot would still be about 4000 points behind Djokovic. That is not an amount that can be made up with a single tournament at this time of year. But a lot is riding on Djokovic’s injury and how well he will play for the balance of 2016 (if he plays much at all).
The Serb has two titles to defend in both Shanghai and Paris for a total of 2000 ranking points. He also has his 2015 ATP World Tour Finals title to defend soon, a title that includes 1300 ranking points. For a total, that’s 3300 ranking points to defend before the end of November, a huge chunk to be at risk for a recently injured player.
What if Djokovic misses one of those events due to an injury? What if he suffers early-round upsets or fails to beat the strong players at the business end of the tournaments? He could very well lose 2000+ ranking points in the next month and a half. If Murray can gain about 2000 ranking points, then we’re looking at a very close year-end competition.
Murray did well in Shanghai and Paris last season, taking down 960 ranking points in the two events combined. However, that’s 960 points out of a possible 2000 points, meaning there is ample room for growth in the remaining Masters Series events this season. Furthermore, the finals in London promise to be very significant since Murray did not do well there last season. He has only 200 points to defend there leaving him much room for growth this season.
I think a part of his poor result in London last year had to do with Britain’s Davis Cup success in 2015. Murray was called upon to play a huge role and almost single-handedly won the title for his country with participation in numerous best-of-five set matches for both singles and doubles. However, this season Britain’s Davis Cup run is over meaning that Murray won’t be needed to play so many matches.
That, in turn, should make him a lot fresher and focused for the tournaments ahead. Needless to say, if he is to make a charge at the year-end ranking, he will need to stay healthy and fit. Otherwise, the 2017 Australian Open might become the stage for a battle for top spot.
Heading into the Beijing final, Murray is unlikely to be looking ahead. In regard to the match at hand, he owns a 7-3 record against Dimitrov. Most recently the Scot crushed the Bulgarian at the 2016 US Open 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. In the bigger picture, their five most recent matches have all been played on the hard-court surface, and Murray has won four of those.
A title in Beijing on Sunday and then two very strong showings in both Shanghai and Paris is a lot to ask for. However, it’s still Andy Murray we’re talking about here, and those are all hard-court-surface events. If Djokovic is less than 100% for the balance of the season, then don’t be surprised if the 2016 ATP World Tour Finals is a tournament for the No. 1 ranking in November.