- Chris Wilkinson
Murray flourishing in the Far EastChris Wilkinson October 13, 2011
Not many people can claim to have bageled Rafael Nadal, but Andy Murray did it in Japan, and made it look easy as well.
The British No. 1 appears to be benefitting from the fact he didn't play too much earlier in the year. While Novak Djokovic appears to be suffering for his exploits earlier this season, Murray is relatively fresh and taking full advantage.
It's a great chance for him to bank a few more points and even leapfrog Roger Federer in the rankings. His victory against Nadal will give him a lot of confidence - he knows he has the game to beat the world No. 2 - now he just needs to reproduce that kind of performance at the grand slams, which is easier said than done.
It's a perfect opportunity for Murray to start to make up the gap on the top three - Federer appears to be fading and Nadal himself has admitted he is not the same player he was last year. With Djokovic feeling the effects of a quite spectacular year, this really could be Murray's time to shine.
There may not be any majors on the horizon, but the ATP World Tour Finals are worth 1500 ranking points to the winner, and you can be certain Murray would be a hugely popular winner in London.
I've said it before but getting the balance between playing enough and not playing too much is perhaps the biggest battle for a player. Because he hasn't overexerted himself earlier in the season, Murray has plenty left in the tank and can use the tournaments in the Far East to try out some new things - and it's clearly working.
Federer has got a lot of points to defend in the coming weeks, but even if he does slip to fourth, I can't see him slipping too much further down the rankings in the near future. He is still some way ahead of the likes of David Ferrer and Robin Soderling, but it will be interesting to see just how long he will stay at the top. This time last year Federer was No. 2 - in 12 months' time we could be talking about how he is struggling to qualify for the year-end finals.
Djokovic may have to accept he is not going to have the perfect season, but with the year-end No. 1 ranking virtually guaranteed he can afford to sit back and put his feet up for a couple of weeks. I don't think the exertions of the season will have a serious long-term effect on his fitness, but he has the luxury of having a few weeks off.
I think if given the option of having four or five years at the top or a single season like Djokovic has had, most players would go for the one-off. Nobody remembers every single No. 1, but with a record-breaking season they will guarantee their place in tennis history. Federer's attitude in recent weeks shows just how highly the players value the grand slams.
It was good to see Tomas Berdych winning in China last week - ending a title drought spanning back to May 2009. He obviously had a very impressive season last year, reaching the final at Wimbledon and establishing himself as a top ten player, but he will be relieved to get some silverware in the trophy cabinet and improve his chances of qualifying for London. That should give him a big boost and it will be interesting to see whether he kicks on from here, with the likes of Soderling, Mardy Fish and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga all hot on his heels chasing qualification at the O2.
Despite being the world No. 6 and winning four titles this season, Soderling is in real danger of missing out on the year-end championship. He started the season so well and consolidated his position as world No. 4 with three titles early in the year. But he has been unlucky with injury and illness and was forced to pull out of the US Open at the 11th hour with a mystery virus.
While the likes of Djokovic, Federer and Nadal will be winding down a bit, there are still plenty of ranking points and prize money up for grabs and expect the likes of Monfils and Tsonga to take full advantage. One player to keep your eye out for is Bernard Tomic - he has already beaten Fish in Shanghai this week and he will be looking to give his ranking a boost in the run-in to the season.
Chris Wilkinson is a former British No. 1