How Andy Murray toughened himself after multiple setbacks to become World No 1

The Queen of England may have ordered her men to dust the sword, for an investiture ceremony may not be too far away for a certain Andrew Barron Murray. With the rise of the Scot to the top of the ATP rankings, commentators might want to consider preparing to call him 'Sir'. It is no mean achievement for a British player to have scaled the peak of tennis in an era that has witnessed the sustained brilliance of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

Just as it was with medieval knights, Andy Murray picked up his tools very early in life. Even as an eight-year-old boy, Murray started playing adults in Dunblane. His instinct and competitive spirit were hardened by the experience of enduring the separation of his parents and a violent shooting incident in school. As a teenager, Murray spent his years sharpening his skills at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Spain.

Andy Murray returns to John Isner during the final of the Paris Masters. AP

Andy Murray returns to John Isner during the final of the Paris Masters. AP

But none of that may have been enough to prepare the young boy for the battle that lay ahead on the treacherous path to glory. Acknowledged as one among the “Big Four” of tennis, success needed to be hard-earned. Murray cast himself from the very fire that often left him bruised and battered.

The Scot endured numbing losses to the other three members of the 'Big Four' club, without ever letting the defeats break his own will or perseverance.

No man has ever spent as much time as the Scot has in ascending the final step of the ladder. It has taken nine long years for Murray to scale the peak and extricate himself from being the perennial bridesmaid. As Federer, Nadal and Djokovic made the peak of tennis their own, Murray was left tethered to the base camp.

He lost his first four Grand Slam finals – all at the hands of those very men in whose shadows he spent much of his career. It may have disheartened ordinary men, but Murray bided his time like a seasoned warrior. The Brit walked away from each of those bruising losses with the renewed resolution of a lion, determined to emerge stronger for the next battle.

"There's something about his mental attitude," said cyclist Sir Chris Hoy. "It's more than the physical side, it's his mental approach that impresses me and it's his determination to come back from setbacks and keep on battling and not to give up.

"A lot of athletes have talent and a lot of athletes have opportunity,” he added, “but not everyone can keep going for as long as he has to finally reach the top of their sport."

Judy Murray has been essential to the journey of the new world No 1. In nurturing the ambitions of her son, as a single parent, she seemed to have offered Andy a window into the kind of virtues needed for success in life. It is these virtues of perseverance and resilience which have come to define the evolution of the genial Scot into the tennis player he is today.

"He has incredible fighting spirit and resilience and over the many years, through the juniors and the senior tour, you have to be able to enjoy the successes, and that is easy," acknowledged Judy.

"But recovering from the defeats that really hurt you, like the Grand Slam finals, for example... these are really tough to overcome because you're right up at the top; it just made him want to work harder."

The numbers simply bear out the deep scars Murray may have endured during his painstaking journey to the peak of the tennis mountain. He is 10-24 to Djokovic, 11-14 to Federer and 7-17 to Nadal. Incredibly though, Murray absorbed those losses, without ever feeling defeated as a man. It is perhaps the real secret behind Murray’s emergence, at a ripe stage in his career, as the top dog in tennis.

Just a few months ago, it seemed inconceivable that any player not named Djokovic would contest for the top ranking. Djokovic had just completed his career Grand Slam upending Murray for the fifth time in a major final when he won the French Open. He was ahead of the field by over 8,000 points, the alpha male of tennis with no one in sight to challenge his reign.

Since then, though, the Serbian has been struggling for motivation and perspective. The mysterious unravelling at Wimbledon wounded Djokovic’s soul and Murray, like a patient hunter, went for the kill.

Yet there is nothing momentary about this transition. His decision to hire Ivan Lendl in 2011 and opting to undergo back surgery in 2013 are examples of the kind of sound decision-making that has fuelled Murray's rise to the top of the heap.

Things get really exciting from here, given the contrasting states of Murray and Djokovic. Irrespective of who finishes year at No 1 - Djokovic will need to win each of his matches of the ATP World Tour Finals in London to reclaim the ranking – the battle at the start of 2017 promises to keep fans engrossed.

Djokovic will face the arduous task of defending 4,340 points till the Miami Open in March next year, compared to just 1,290 for Murray. Any slip up by the Serbian should afford the Scot an opportunity to strengthen his grip over the ranking. The return of Federer and Nadal from their self-imposed exile will also add an extra layer of intrigue to this narrative.

Murray will have no more than a day or two to relish his coronation, at least for now. London is the stage for one final battle next week, as tennis seeks to find who might end 2016 at the top of its mountain.

Murray has enormous momentum with him – the Scot has reached 11 of the 12 finals since the Monte Carlo Masters and won eight of them. But Djokovic might just rediscover the hunger needed to upstage the Brit and reassert his supremacy. Tennis just got even more interesting with the rise of Murray to the top.

Updated Date: Nov 07, 2016 22:22 PM

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