| Andy Murray with his trophy, in Tokyo, on Sunday. (AP) |
Tokyo: Andy Murray may still be perceived as a nearly man, but he is quietly putting together the best season of his career.
In Tokyo on Sunday, Murray won a second consecutive ATP singles title, and topped it off with victory in the doubles tournament, playing alongside brother Jamie.
Best of all, the man Murray beat in the final of the Japan Open was Rafael Nadal, his nemesis for the past couple of seasons.
Nadal has repeatedly barred Murrays path to the Grand Slam title he craves, beating him in three semi-finals this year. But the tables were turned as Murray fought back from losing the first set to claim a 3-6, 6-2, 6-0 victory, his first win over Nadal since Toronto in 2010.
I played some great tennis, especially in the third set, Murray said afterwards. There were a lot of close games towards the end of the first set and the beginning of the second and I managed to get the momentum and didnt give him too many chances after that.
Im sure in the third set it was some of the best tennis Ive played against him. I was very consistent, didnt make too many mistakes and kept a cool head in the important moments.
Murray was also more positive than is his wont during the grand slams, a subtle shift that he needs to maintain if he is to break that major-tournament duck. The way he is going at the moment, he looks a near-certainty to overhaul Roger Federer by the end of the season and move up to world No 3.
He goes into the Shanghai Masters this week as defending champion, while Federer is resting and recuperating at home, and Novak Djokovic is also taking time off to allow a troublesome back injury — which he suffered in the final of the US Open — a chance to heal.
Should Murray win a third successive tournament, his promotion one rung up the ladder would be confirmed.
Since arriving in the USA in August, Murray has put together a tremendous sequence of results: 21 wins from 22 matches, with that one defeat coming at Flushing Meadows against Nadal.
His critics will point out that he has not produced his best tennis at the business end of a Grand Slam, but then perhaps we can look at the Djokovic model for reassurance.
Djokovic found his own momentum through a strong finish to the 2010 season, winning the Davis Cup final for Serbia, and then carried it into his successful campaign at this years Australian Open.
Meanwhile the Murrays 6-1, 6-4 win over Frantisek Cermak and Filip Polasek also means a second title of the year for elder brother Jamie. The result — which came up in just 58 minutes — will lift Jamies doubles ranking inside the top 25, probably to 23, and underlines his potential with next years London Olympics on the way.