Andy Murray will begin the defence of his US Open title next week, and if the draw goes to plan he could be in for a tough couple of weeks.
Seeded 3rd after being overtaken by Rafael Nadal following the Spaniard’s latest tournament win at Cincinnati last week, Murray faces the prospect of having to play Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal in successive matches if he progresses to the latter stages. And should Djokovic fail to reach the last four, an alternative semi-final opponent for Murray could come in the shape of Juan-Martin Del Potro, the 2009 winner.
Not that Murray will be deterred by looking at the potential opponents; he faced the prospect of an equally tough route through to the Wimbledon final when this year’s draw was made, but saw his half of the draw thrown wide open by the early exit of both Nadal and Roger Federer.
But while Murray remains one of the leading contenders for the year’s final Grand Slam event, his slim chances of ending the year as world number one are all but over, having crashed out early at lucrative events in Montreal and then Cincinnati.
John McEnroe was the latest expert to predict that Murray could yet end the year at the number one ranked player – a claim which has been echoed by others since Murray’s Wimbledon triumph.
The problem for Murray – and Djokovic – is that the only way in which to improve a ranking, is to improve on the performance achieved in the same event during the previous year. That means even if Murray was to match his 2012 performance in each of the season’s events, he’d only pick up the same number of points as he did a year ago and would therefore have the same ranking points as he has now.
In the case of Nadal, he didn’t take part in any of the competitions between August and February. Therefore, there’s plenty of possibility for improvement. By reaching the final of the US Open, he’d be guaranteed to improve his ranking by a minimum of 1200 points, and move further away from Murray – and closer to Djokovic’s number 1 spot.
Murray’s time at the top of the men’s game may yet come – but not until he’s reached the level of year-round consistency that his rivals in the sport have already achieved.