Number one aim
Tim Clement previews the Shanghai Masters with the race for the world No.1 ranking hotting up.
By Tim Clement - Twitter: @SkyTimClement
Last Updated: 08/10/12 11:05am
After alleviating the burden of a first major title, Andy Murray switches his focus to the revised aim of capturing the world number one spot when he attempts to defend his Shanghai Masters title this week.
The Scot spoke boldly about his target of sitting at the top of the game when I spoke to him in Brisbane at the start of the year, but it seemed more of a decoy tactic to downplay his desperation for that elusive first major.
However, with a US Open title in the bag, the 25-year-old will now need to refocus in order to avoid a post-summer hangover.
His performance over the next week in China will be vital to ensuring such hopes can be fulfilled in the near future, with rankings points needed to be retained for him to stay in touch with the top two.
In fact, even if Murray does win the Shanghai Masters for a third successive year he is still likely to lose ground, with current number one Roger Federer not appearing last year while Novak Djokovic only made the quarter-finals.
Federer will then be the man needing to defend points after Shanghai, having gone unbeaten after the US Open in 2011, while Djokovic failed to win a single title after his Flushing Meadows triumph and, therefore, looks certain to add to his points tally significantly.
With 1,490 more points than Federer and almost 3,500 more than Murray in 2012 after his recent China Open triumph, the Serb is in poll position to be the season-ending number one.
There are 3,500 points available in the three remaining main events, the Shanghai Masters, the Paris Masters and the World Tour Finals, so it is virtually impossible for Murray to top the charts this season.
If the Brit can finish the season well then he should have a realistic chance of capturing top spot early next year, with a semi-final exit and an early exit at Indian Wells Masters to be improved on.
The bookmakers are expecting Djokovic to strengthen his claim in Shanghai, with Sky Bet installing him as the 6/4 favourite despite failing to even make the final here previously.
With Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer and Juan Martin del Potro all absent, it is almost impossible to look past one of the top three lifting the trophy come Sunday, with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Tomas Berdych the joint fourth favourites at a hefty 25/1.
The top 20's youngest two players Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic both came in to 33/1 after reaching the Japan Open final, which Nishikori triumphed in, winning 7-6 (5) 3-6 6-0 to become the tournament's first ever home-grown winner.
However, neither have produced the goods at the business end in a Masters event before, let alone a Grand Slam.
As we hit the tail-end of the season the divide between the elite few and the rest has rarely been vaster, with Murray a qualified member of the golden generation.