Three Grand Slam finals, an Olympic gold medal and world no. 1 status - 2016 has been a memorable year for Andy Murray. Gruffudd Owen takes a look back at the Scot's stellar season and charts his stunning rise to the top of the game, which was crowned with victory at the ATP World Tour Finals
A year that began with disappointment Down Under ended in glorious fashion for Andy Murray as the Scot triumphed at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, meaning he heads into 2017 as the men's world no. 1. The 29-year-old's achievement is nothing short of extraordinary: after it initially seemed certain that Novak Djokovic would enjoy another season of dominance at the top of the game, Murray's incredible performances in the second half of the year secured him the top ranking for the first time in his career. Murray is now very much the one to beat in men's tennis. But how did he pull it off?
1. Aussie agony – again
Having reached the Australian Open final four times previously – and lost each time – Murray was determined to make it fifth time lucky as he once again prepared to face Djokovic in the 2016 decider. The Serb was Murray's conqueror in 2011, 2013 and 2015 – and made sure the title would continue to elude his rival with a convincing straight-sets victory. While undoubtedly a crushing disappointment for the Scot, it was nevertheless becoming apparent that a Djokovic-Murray duopoly was emerging at the top of the men's game. Would ‘Nole’ be able to hold off his rival for the entire season?
2. The return of a winning partnership
Despite suffering another Grand Slam final loss at the French Open in June – again at the hands of Djokovic – Murray's all-round game was clearly improving. His appearance in the final at Roland Garros was the first of his career, which suggested the Scot was becoming a threat on all surfaces, and his decision to reunite with former coach Ivan Lendl before Wimbledon proved to be a case of perfect timing. Having previously coached Murray during the most successful period of his career, Lendl's return had an instant impact, as Murray took advantage of Djokovic's shock third-round exit to clinch his second Wimbledon crown. The tide was turning.
3. An unstoppable force
A superb Olympic gold medal win in the men's singles in Rio aside, Murray still faced a tough task to usurp Djokovic as world no. 1 before the season's end. But a pair of title victories in Asia at the China Open and Shanghai Masters – coupled with Djokovic's continuing slump in form – gave the Scot hope of completing a remarkable ascent to the summit of men's tennis. After yet another triumph at the Vienna Open in October, Murray achieved the unlikely feat by claiming his maiden Paris Masters title, thus officially becoming the best player on the planet for the first time in his career. And while Djokovic had the opportunity to reclaim top spot at the ATP World Tour Finals in London, the Serb was swatted aside in straight sets by a rampant Murray - making 2016 a year to cherish for the new world no. 1.