(Reuters) - Andy Murray begins his late-season assault on Novak Djokovic’s world number one ranking at the China Open this week hoping to take a chunk out of the 4,695-point gap separating them.
The Briton has enjoyed one of the best years of his career, winning Wimbledon and the Olympics, and could still finish the season by toppling the Serb who has been ranked number one since July 2014.
While on the face of it the gap still looks huge, Djokovic is defending far more points than Murray until the end of the season and he will not be able to defend his China title after withdrawing due to an elbow injury.
Djokovic, 29, finished last season in unstoppable form, winning in China, Shanghai and Paris before claiming the ATP Tour Finals. He has 3,800 points to defend for the rest of the season to Murray’s 1,160, meaning there is the possibility of a large swing in Murray’s direction.
Should Murray win in China and take the 500 ranking points on offer he would move 1,000 points closer to Djokovic ahead of Shanghai where he lost to Djokovic in the semis a year ago.
Murray has spoken of his desire to become the first British player to reach number one since computer rankings were introduced and with Djokovic apparently suffering injury niggles he has a realistic shot.
“I’ve never been there and it’s something I would like to do for the first time, which is maybe more of a motivation for me than some of the guys that have been there before,” he said.
“But I want to just try and finish this year strong from a personal point of view. It’s been my best season to date, and I want to try to finish it as best as I can.”
However, Murray has also had a grueling year and needed to rest a thigh injury ahead of Beijing - a legacy of his Davis Cup exertions when he lost a five-set cliff-hanger to Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro last month.
“I needed a break anyway and I haven’t been able to practise as much as usual coming into an event like this,” he said.
“But I feel healthy, my leg feels good. I think this week I need to be realistic with maybe how I’m going to play.
“I have very few days of practice coming in here and I’m not putting too much pressure on myself right now.”
Reporting by Shravanth Vijayakumar in Bengaluru and Martyn Herman in London, editing by Ed Osmond