Andy Murray targets top finish to season in London grand finale

World No 1 Andy Murray gets in some practice at The O2, London. Picture: Steve Paston/PA
World No 1 Andy Murray gets in some practice at The O2, London. Picture: Steve Paston/PA
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Five days into his reign as world No 1, Andy Murray already has his sights set on the next challenge.

Arguably the greatest achievement of the 29-year-old’s career was made official on Monday when he became the first British player to sit at the top of the singles rankings.

Andy Murray during practice at The O2, London. Picture: Steve Paston/PA

Andy Murray during practice at The O2, London. Picture: Steve Paston/PA

By winning four straight tournaments, culminating in last week’s Masters event in Paris, Murray was able to bring to an end Novak Djokovic’s 122-week dominance of men’s tennis.

Now the two men are in London where they are the headline acts for next week’s ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena, with the world’s top ranking once again on the line.

It would not be in Murray’s nature to make too much of his new status, and the Scot said: “It feels good but I don’t feel any different this week than I did the week before, when I get up in the morning and stuff.

“Maybe when you step on the court you have a little bit more confidence and feel a bit better about yourself.”

Murray’s ascent to the top of the rankings has been driven by a relentless desire to improve across many years, and the Scot insisted nothing will change there.

A key driver behind his run of 45 wins and only three defeats since the start of the grass-court season was his reunion with coach Ivan Lendl.

Lendl is not travelling as much as he did in their first spell working together and has linked up with Murray in London for the first time since the US Open two months ago.

Murray said: “We spoke on the phone on the Saturday night in Paris. He obviously congratulated me on getting to No 1 and then we started talking about the final the next day and what we were going to do to prepare for this event.

“He’d obviously watched quite a few of my matches but then we got here it was just kind of back to work and the things we’re trying to improve and get better at.

“I like that, it’s good. I don’t need to be discussing what happened the last few months too much. I need to keep trying to improve, and that’s what I’ve always done when we’ve been working together.”

The immediate target is holding onto his world No 1 ranking until the end of the year by keeping his winning run going in London.

Murray, whose first match is against Marin Cilic on Monday, goes into the tournament on a run of 19 straight victories and is undoubtedly the form player in world tennis.

But he has struggled at the O2, with his best performances being a pair of semi-final appearances in 2010 and 2012.

Last year he had one eye on the Davis Cup final the following week and, after beating David Ferrer, lost to Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

“The first few years here I played well,” added Murray.

“There were a couple of years when I wish I could have played and done a little bit better but, like last year, it was difficult to judge because I prepared for the tournament by practising on clay.

“This year I’ve obviously had a good run in Paris, which a lot of years I haven’t done, so I took a few days off after Paris and then came over and hit here.

“I’m staying at home this year for the first time, so I’m doing that a bit differently. The court is definitely a bit faster this year, so that changes the way you play the matches a little bit, but I think that’s a positive thing.

“At the end of the year when a lot of the players have played a lot of tennis to have it on the slowest court and having really long rallies is tough so it will shorten the points and maybe make for some better tennis.”

The draw was not kind to Murray, with dangermen Wawrinka, Cilic and Kei Nishikori all in his group. Djokovic, meanwhile, was paired with an ailing Milos Raonic and debutants Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem, against whom he has a collective 23-0 record.

Barring a couple of highly unlikely scenarios, whoever out of Murray and Djokovic performs better next week will finish the season at the top of the world rankings.

After completing the career Grand Slam at the French Open, Djokovic has fallen away alarmingly, and he will need to improve his form significantly if he is to claim a fifth straight title at the O2.

But Murray, for one, is not about to write off his long-time rival

“I’ve said these last few months that I expect Novak is going to start playing his best tennis again,” said Murray.

“It wasn’t months, it was years he was playing great tennis for, so, for him not to play his best for a couple of months, I’m sure for him it’s not too much to worry about.”