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In the Shadow of the Slams: Murray One Match Away

By: Jane Voigt

Poor Andy Murray. The guy played the longest ATP match of the year on Sunday and he still didn’t have enough points to earn an outright berth for the ATP World Tour Finals in London.

It comes off like a slap in the face to a one who’s done well historically, especially in the later part of this one. For goodness sake, he’s a member of the Big Four – as shaky is the ground on which it rests. Should the ATP have a policy to allow Murray to skip the remaining points he needs for a tournament he has played five times? He won Wimbledon in 2013, shutting down one of the most aggressive media assaults on any one player and calming the minds of every living soul in Great Britain. That alone should count as double the points.

But that’s not how it all works in London, headquarters of the organization that manages tournaments and players.

Today, though, Murray’s race inched closer. He defeated Julien Benneteau 63 64 in little over an hour, standing closer to the baseline and attacking when possible, at the BNP Paribas Masters in Paris-Bercy. The No. 8 seed was in no mood to engage in long rallies. There were enough of those on Sunday.

He would have had his London berth handed to him before he took to court on Wednesday, but America’s Jack Sock committed a few too many errors against No. 7 seed Milos Raonic. That match came down to a squeaky 3rd-set tiebreak; if Sock had eliminated the Canadian, another guy galloping toward the end-of-year extravaganza, Murray would have floated across the finish line.

“The other guys behind me will need to play extremely well in Paris to knock me out,” Murray told the ATP Saturday. “I’ve done everything I could.”

Murray’s rocket rise in the Race to London rankings has put a spotlight on his change of attitude and conviction about his tennis. After being dismissed from Wimbledon in the quarterfinals, the Briton suffered disappointing losses at the Rogers Cup, Cincinnati Masters, and the US Open.

Since the last major of the year, he won the inaugural Shenzhen Open in China, Vienna, and Valencia, compiling an impressive 19-2 record.

Murray’s performance in Valencia – where he saved five match points against the pesky Tommy Robredo – perfectly reflected his new do-or-die mentality. After clinching the title, Murray collapsed on court while Robredo trudged to the net. The Spaniard certainly wasn’t pleased, flipping off the Scot in jest, and out of exhaustion.

“I just kept fighting as hard as I could,” Murray said. “It’s going to stand me in good stead for the end of the year.”

The only year in which Murray did not played in the World Tour Finals was 2013, when he opted for back surgery. He had previously played in consecutive years, from 2008-2012.

The Race to London begins January 1st, unlike the revolving Tour rankings. The counting for the tournament ends Sunday. If Murray wins tomorrow against No. 9 seed Grigor Dimitrov, he is through to London.

The front end of Murray’s year did nothing for his upward mobility, contributing a heap to his fall scramble. His back surgery played with his mind and body early in the year. Ivan Lendl, former coach and the man who stood by his side as he won Wimbledon last year and the U. S. Open in 2012, had left. No hard feelings, he just didn’t want to be on the road.

In Cincinnati, he told The Guardian, “I feel good. I feel well; I have practiced well. I just need to get that winning mentality back.”

Murray’s ranking tumbled from No. 2 to No. 12 by mid-September. Amelie Mauresmo, Murray’s new coach, does not work like Lendl. She stands for quality not quantity.

“There’s a very big difference in personality,” Murray also told The Guardian this summer. “In the work we do before [court practice] she’s very demanding. On court, she’s very precise.”

The mathematics behind the London rankings and who will play and not play is – almost intentionally – a bit baffling. Marin Cilic has already qualified, though the Croat has fewer points than Murray.

“According to the ATP rules, a Grand Slam champion can qualify for the World Tour Finals by finishing in the Top 20, rather than the mandated Top 8,” tennis.com reported in early October.

Stan Wawrinka and Cilic could have blocked Murray because of the policy. “You would hope that the players who would get the [the World Tour Finals] would be those who accumulate the most points across the whole year on the ATP Tour,” Murray said, according to the same article published on tennis.com.

“But by putting the Grand Slam champions in they would be saying the Grand Slams are the most important events.”

Should the ATP favor the four Majors? The Scot doesn’t think so, and his point is valid. He believes the ATP should make sure that its tournaments take on the same import as the Majors if, indeed, it is to be branded The ATP World Tour Finals.

Follow Jane on Twitter @downthetee!

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