Andy Murray must be wary of in-form John Isner as the new world no. 1 tries to extend his ranking lead with a first BNP Paribas Masters title in Paris.
Murray vs Isner BNP Paribas Masters tennis is live from Paris on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm GMT. Watch and bet on tennis live from Paris at bet365 > live streaming > tennis
Andy Murray should take nothing for granted as the new world no. 1 faces off with John Isner in the final of the BNP Paribas Masters on Sunday.
It may still say ‘2’ next to Andy Murray’s name when he takes the court at the AccorHotels Arena on Sunday to face John Isner in the final of the BNP Paribas Masters, but everybody knows now that’s just a formality. Thanks to Novak Djokovic’s defeat at the hands of Marin Cilic on Friday and Murray’s victory (via a walkover) over Milos Raonic in Saturday, Murray on Monday will become the new world no. 1.
The first British man to be ranked world no. 1 since computerized rankings were introduced in 1973, the 26th man to rank as world no. 1, the second-oldest to ever reach the top spot for the first time after 30-year-old John Newcombe in 1974, and the man to set a record for the most time between becoming world no. 2 for the first time – which happened back in 2009 – and world no. 1 … These are fascinating numbers, and offer a glimpse at the scope and grandeur of Murray’s achievement. But tennis never gives anyone a chance to rest on their laurels – least of all Murray. Reaching the Paris final has given him 10,785 points to Djokovic’s 10,780 – not exactly an overwhelming margin.
There’s no way for Murray to stop the world no. 1 ranking being in play at the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, which start a week on Sunday, but by winning the Paris Masters title he can at least extend his lead on Djokovic in the rankings by another few hundred points, which could be crucial in London – never Murray’s best event, to say the least.
So Murray has to stop dwelling dazedly on the unexpected way this huge achievement has come about, and focus on Sunday’s clash with John Isner.
‘It's something I have never achieved before and wasn't something that I necessarily felt like I was going to do even this year, even after the French Open or the beginning of the year,’ Murray said. ‘I was so far behind in terms of points and the amount of matches it would take me to win. I never expected to do what I had done after the French Open, so I was really down after I lost that match.
‘But things can turn around quickly in this sport and it's just a strange sport. You had Novak losing yesterday to a guy who he won 14 times in a row against. And then John beating Cilic today who he'd lost six in a row against the following day. Stuff can turn around quick and the last few months have been really good.’
John Isner (Dan Mullan/Getty Images)
Murray, as usual, is correct: There are absolutely no guarantees in sport. Nobody saw the unseeded John Isner reaching the BNP Paribas Masters final after the mediocre season the big American has had, with his best result a runner-up finish in Atlanta to Nick Kyrgios.
Isner, twice a Masters 1000 Series runner-up, had made it to the semifinals in Paris once before but that was back in 2011 and he hadn’t been past the third round of a Masters all year. (Admittedly, he skipped Monte Carlo, Madrid and Rome – playing just two events on European clay – this spring.) But something seems to have clicked for the American this week. He said on Friday that he felt he had ‘turned a corner’, and he’s been playing like it in wins over Mischa Zverev, David Ferrer, Jan-Lennard Struff and Jack Sock – the man who replaced him as American no. 1 this year (Isner will take back the top spot on Monday).
But most of all, he played like a new man in his surprising win over Marin Cilic, who had beaten him in all six of their previous meetings, on Saturday. Cilic didn’t play badly but Isner was fantastic. Hardly known for his return game, he had Cilic under fairly consistent pressure from the Croatian’s first service game, when he had to save three break points, and played one of his best return games to break at 4-4, highlighted by a running forehand pass winner (yes, Isner can run). Cilic had one break point in the second set, but Isner snuffed it out with an ace and never really looked like losing as he fairly cruised to a 6-4, 6-3 win.
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‘I took the court today with a lot of confidence. It's the first time all year coming into a match I'd won four matches in a row. So I knew I was playing well. I knew I was playing the right way, and really, from the get-go, I was serving extremely well. That took a lot of pressure off me,’ Isner said. ‘[Facing Andy] is going to be a huge challenge for me, but that's what makes this game so awesome and so tough at the same time. There are so many great players, and Andy, of course, is one of the all-time greats in my opinion. I have never beaten him before. He's had my number. But also I had never beaten Cilic before coming into this match.’
Murray has indeed had Isner’s number, beating him all seven times they’ve played including last week in the Vienna quarterfinals, 6-1, 6-3. It’s not hard to see why – Murray is one of the all-time great returners, he can outsteady Isner from the baseline and when the big man attacks the net, well, Murray’s passing shots are feared for a reason. It’s not a foregone conclusion at all: Isner has absolutely nothing to lose, Murray has a brand-new ranking he hasn’t even formally got yet to defend; Isner can lay it all out there in his last match of the year while Murray has played an awful lot of tennis lately; and above all, Isner moved better and hit more freely in his match against Cilic than he has done in a long time, and we are talking about a man with weapons so formidable he’s beaten Novak Djokovic in the past. Murray must be on his guard to avoid starting his reign as world no. 1 with a defeat.
Murray vs Isner is scheduled on Court Central in Paris on Sunday at 3pm local/2pm GMT