Andy Murray has hailed 2016 as the most consistent year of his career after claiming his fifth singles title since January with the defeat of Grigor Dimitrov in the China Open final.
The 29-year old world number two had been near faultless throughout the tournament and didn’t drop a single set, but he was seriously tested by the Bulgarian in what Murray considered to be “a very high-level match”.
Dimitrov, who sits 20th in the world rankings, progressed to the final essentially by default after his semi-final opponent, Milos Raonic, sustained an ankle injury and was forced to withdraw.
Many expected Murray to walk the match, breaking Dimitrov’s serve in the opening game and saving a break point at 3-2 before serving out the set. Dimitrov rallied in the second set, breaking as the Scot served for the match at 5-4, and in the tie-break, Murray gained the mini-break with the first point.
Although Dimitrov hit back, Murray won six of the next seven points to pick up his first ever China Open title.
Murray, who is known for his fiery temperament on the court, was made angrier than usual after TV cameras zoomed in on his match notes during the final.
They revealed some of Murray’s tactics and weaknesses observed in his opponent, with instructions to ‘stay calm and breathe’, ‘attack his second serve’ and ‘don’t let him dictate points with his forehand’.
Commenting afterwards, Murray explained: “They’re personal notes. It’s not for everyone else to see, otherwise I’d stick them up on the umpire’s chair so everyone else could see it.”
Besides the issues of privacy, it’s possible that Dimitrov could use the notes to his advantage in future meetings with Murray.
Top spot ambition
Murray had high praise for Dimitrov after the match: “Grigor fought right to the end and made it extremely tough to finish it in two sets.
"It's been an excellent week and I'm very happy with the way that I have played the last couple of matches. I will look forward to Shanghai now."
That last sentence carries plenty of significance, as Murray now hopes to displace Novak Djokovic as the world’s top-ranked player.
Djokovic’s form has dipped since triumphing over Murray at the French Open, but his rival has enjoyed success at Wimbledon and the Olympics.
Murray’s maiden China Open title also gifted him 500 ranking points, taking his total to 9,845.
That is still some way behind Novak Djokovic’s 13,540, but Murray could quickly make up the difference in the event of any slip-up from the number one.
You can see the world’s greatest tennis players in glorious hospitality when the ATP World Tour Finals stop by London’s O2 between Sunday 13-20 November.
By Sam Coates