If 2016 began with Novak Djokovic's continuation of his dominance, it ended in a stunning fashion with Andy Murray dethroning him from the top spot. As Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal were out of the picture for most of the season due to injuries, the role reversal between Djokovic and Murray kept tennis fans spellbound.
The beauty of sports is that it never follows the script. When the sports fandom is all set to get mesmerized by one player’s dominance, another player starts his inexorable rise.
At the beginning of 2016, it was hard to envisage anybody other than Novak Djokovic ending the season as the numero uno. Sharp, determined, brimming with confidence, the Serb picked up from where he had left, laying the foundation for yet another sizzling season.
Yet he was incredibly overshadowed by Andy Murray, who not only bridged the wide gulf between the two but even surpassed his big rival to eventually snatch the top spot.
After three heartbreaking runner-up finishes at the French Open, Djokovic had only one thing in mind – to chase that elusive piece of silverware and complete his Career Slam. And for that to happen, he knew he could not afford to have any let-up in his intensity in the months leading up to the Roland Garros.
He surged to five titles in his first eight ATP tournaments of the year and his riches included his sixth Australian Open crown, his fourth Indian Wells-Miami Masters double, his second title at the Madrid Masters apart from the ATP Doha trophy. Murray was never far away as he met the Serb in the finals of two out of those five events but the World No. 1 always had something extra in terms of an unwavering focus and an insatiable hunger for success.
The only place where the Scot finally had the upper hand was at the Rome Masters where a seemingly fatigued Djokovic fell to an inspired Murray in straight sets.
Could this herald a change? Is this a sign of things to come? Is Murray the man who can stop Djokovic? Will Djokovic’s Career Slam dream remain a dream forever?
These were undoubtedly the questions swirling in every tennis aficionado’s minds. Yet when the French Open final came, it was that one man reigning supreme again just like he did at the Melbourne Park earlier in the year.
Murray began the summit showdown promisingly only to spiral down into the pits in the middle of that all-important match. A sudden lapse in concentration combined with a terrible passivity in his approach in the second and third sets contributed to what could easily be described the nadir of his career.
By the time, he revitalized himself to a somewhat extent in the fourth set, Djokovic was already sniffing victory.
That particular match would go on to become a turning point for what was to transpire afterward in the season.
The role reversal
It gave Djokovic everything that he had ever dreamt of as he etched his name in history. And it compelled Murray to make a much-needed self-introspection and ask himself the question that long needed to be answered!
What was preventing him from becoming the best he could be?
There was never any doubt about Murray's immense talent but there was always such a wide gap between what he was capable of producing and what he could actually do under pressure. His
And that attitude was what was to be blamed for his split with former coach, Amelie Mauresmo.
The 29-year-old then reunited with the very man who was pivotal in transforming him into a multiple Grand Slam champion and an Olympic gold medallist back in 2012-2013 – Ivan Lendl. With the Czech legend by his side, Murray started feeling comfortable once more.
He realized how his defeatism and tantrums had proved to be detrimental to his own career. He had forever resigned himself to being the weakest wheel of the famed Big Four quartet comprising Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and himself.
He finally realized it is because HE, HIMSELF did not make an effort to take the reins in his own hands that he endured such a torturous journey. A makeover of his on-court image was imperative if he had any intention of ever making it to the pinnacle of his sport.
From being the scowling Murray, who would berate himself frequently, he became the architect of his own wins in an astounding role reversal that the world watched in awe and could only applaud at. There was no doubt, no fear, no tentative play. They were all replaced by a newfound audacity, a shining positivity, an unshakable conviction, an enviable composure and most importantly an unquenchable thirst to become the very best.
At the same time, Djokovic’s graph nosedived as Murray soared higher and higher. With his lifelong ambition achieved, the 12-time Major winner had absolutely nothing to look forward to. Shorn of any kind of motivation, all Djokovic had since his Paris feat was a void, a deep one that engulfed all his emotions and left him pitifully empty.
In the next seven tournaments, all he could manage was just a solitary title at the Toronto Masters. One of the losses during that period that would always hurt the Serb was his opening round exit at the Rio Olympics.
How Murray dethroned Djokovic
Murray, in contrast, was unstoppable. He owned the grass season, emerging victorious at both the Queen’s and Wimbledon. He kept his winning streak intact at the Rio Olympics en route to taking his second gold medal.
There was no slip, no stutter since the US Open. He slowly and steadily shaved off the massive points difference between him and Djokovic as tennis fans watched in astonishment.
In just five months, the Scot overcame the colossal 8000 + points, eventually unseating Djokovic from the top spot as he kept on adding to his burgeoning tally. He went unbeaten in two tournaments in China, then triumphed at Vienna and the Paris Masters, culminating in his maiden ATP World Tour Finals title.
In a battle for the Year-End No. 1 ranking, Murray steamrolled Djokovic, giving a thorough testimony of his elevated level of play.
His fabulous 24-match winning streak to close the 2016 season coupled with nine titles took the spotlight away from Djokovic’s haul of seven titles. Even in the number of match wins, Murray was way ahead – he had 78 wins to the French Open champion’s paltry 65.
But the most difficult task of all for Murray was conquering his own demons. For years, he had to endure heartbreaks even from a winning position and much of it was because he would implode.
After all those setbacks, 2016 gave him a chance to find the winning formula which was there within himself all along. Shedding all the negativity that would hold him back, he finally succeeded in discovering his very best self that had remained cocooned so far.
And that is the very reason why the 2016 season had only one winner and it was