PARIS: When Novak Djokovic ruthlessly swept aside Andy Murray to lift the French Open title and complete a career Grand Slam in June, it seemingly reinforced the yawning chasm between the Serb and his long-time rival.
But a return to the friendly confines of Queen’s, and then Wimbledon, triggered the start of a remarkable run that on Saturday catapulted Murray to the top of the world.
The Scot washed away bitter Roland Garros memories of a fifth Grand Slam final defeat to Djokovic — his eighth overall — by capturing a second Wimbledon crown over Milos Raonic.
He then became the first player to win two Olympic singles gold medals when he successfully defended his title in Rio, defeating Juan Martin del Potro in “one of the hardest matches” of his career.
And while he ran out of steam at the US Open, exiting in the quarter-finals, his dominance in Asia ramped up the pressure on a Djokovic shockingly short of his typically stratospheric standards.
A career-best seventh title of the season followed in Vienna as Murray arrived in Paris with Djokovic, top of the rankings since July 2014, now firmly in his crosshairs.
Having first ascended to the number two spot in August 2009, Murray edged ever closer to the summit with contrasting wins over Fernando Verdasco and Lucas Pouille.
But he still needed Djokovic, who had been more than 8,000 points clear of Murray after his French Open triumph, to fall prematurely for a clear shot at the top.
He had previously targeted next year’s spring hardcourt season in the US as a realistic opportunity to dethrone Djokovic, but Murray’s coronation came much earlier with mission improbable accomplished after an injured Raonic withdrew from their Paris semi-final.
In 2013, Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years, ending the nation’s obsession with finding a champion to follow in Fred Perry’s footsteps.
And three years later in Paris, Murray would once more emulate Perry to become the first British singles player to hold top spot since computerised rankings began in 1973.
It was the culmination of a remarkable journey for Murray, whose tennis talent was first spotted by his mother when he was aged three on modest public courts in the family’s hometown of Dunblane, Scotland.
In a terrifying twist of fate, the young Murray would survive the Dunblane school massacre that claimed the lives of 16 children and one teacher in 1996.
A 43-year-old man opened fire on the children before shooting himself in a gymnasium that Murray had been on his way to at the time.
After honing his skills at a renowned tennis academy in Barcelona, Murray showcased his talent to the world by reaching his first major final at the US Open in 2008, losing to Roger Federer in that encounter and also the Australian Open final two years later.
By the time, he was beaten by Federer at Wimbledon in 2012, Murray feared he would never be able to call himself a Grand Slam champion.