The only certainty in the intriguing battle between Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to finish year-end World No. 1 is that the matter will be settled this weekend at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals.
With each victory this week Djokovic has temporarily pulled ahead of Murray in the battle for the coveted year-end No. 1 Emirates ATP Ranking. And all three times Murray has responded the following day with clutch wins to edge back ahead with an effective 130-point lead. On Friday, Murray confirmed his place in the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Wawrinka, matching Djokovic’s perfect 3-0 round-robin record.
Given his slim lead, Murray will claim year-end No. 1 should both he and Djokovic fall in the semi-finals. If one player loses in the semi-finals and his rival wins his semi-final, the player advancing to the final will be crowned year-end No. 1. And, should Murray (who plays Milos Raonic) and Djokovic (who plays Kei Nishikori) meet in the final, then, for the first time in tournament history, the title match will decide year-end No. 1.
It would be an amazing conclusion to the season. Little more than six months ago, Djokovic had a 9,025 point lead over Murray after beating the Scot in the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Madrid. Murray avenged that loss the following week in the Rome final as he began his long climb towards No. 1.
On paper, Murray came into the tournament 405 points ahead of Djokovic, but the Scot will see the 275 points he earned in the 2015 Davis Cup final fall from his points total on 28 November, the day the year-end rankings are calculated. So, that effectively gave Murray a 130-point lead coming into the finale. With both players going 3-0 in round-robin play to earn 600 points, Murray’s 130-point lead remains as we enter the semi-finals. A semi-final win is worth 400 points and a final victory brings an additional 500 points.
Murray is looking to become the 17th man in history (since 1973) to finish as the year-end No. 1. Djokovic is looking to finish No. 1 for the third consecutive year, and for the fifth time overall. Murray became World No. 1 for the first time in his career on 7 November.
The last time a No. 2 dethroned the incumbent No. 1 at the season finale to claim the year-end No. 1 title was back in 2001, when Australia’s Lleyton Hewitt overtook Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten in Sydney. Never in history has the final match of the year at the season finale determined the year-end No. 1.