LONDON • Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic will stage a dramatic battle to finish this year on top of the tennis world as the two old rivals aim for the title at the ATP Tour Finals, which begin today in London.
A friendly rivalry that began 15 years ago when they first faced off in European junior tournaments will reach a new level over the week as they fight to end the year as the world No. 1.
Murray ended Djokovic's 122-week reign at the top last weekend when the Wimbledon champion became the first British man to reach pole position in the ATP rankings.
But Murray has only a 405-point lead over Djokovic in the rankings and the Scot can be passed by the Serb if he does not match or better his rival's performance at the prestigious season-ending event at London's O2 Arena.
As the top two seeds, Murray and Djokovic have been drawn in different groups in the eight-player tournament, meaning they cannot meet before the semi-finals.
If their 35th Tour-level meeting comes in the final, it would be a fitting occasion to decide the top ranking, which last changed hands at the Tour Finals in 2001 when Lleyton Hewitt supplanted Gustavo Kuerten.
Who will be tennis' top dog?
WORLD NO. 1 SPOT WILL BE MURRAY'S TO KEEP IF...
They both go out in the group stage but he wins at least as many matches as Djokovic.
They are both eliminated in the semi-finals but he wins at least as many of the group matches.
He reaches the semi-finals with three round-robin wins and Djokovic is runner-up with one round-robin win.
He progresses further than Djokovic in the tournament.
DJOKOVIC WILL FINISH THE SEASON AS NO. 1 IF...
They both go out in the group stage but he wins more matches.
They go out in the semi-finals but he wins more round-robin matches.
He advances further than Murray, having won at least two round-robin matches.
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Murray has enjoyed an incredible 11 months on and off the court in which he has not only won Wimbledon for the second time and claimed a second Olympic singles gold medal, but also become a father to daughter Sophia.
"This year is the best I've had on court, the last few months have been the best in terms of my consistency," he said. "Away from the court it's been by far the best in my life, a big change and a great change. I've really enjoyed being a parent.
"When I step on the court I will have a little more confidence and feel better about myself."
Although Murray has lost 24 of his clashes with Djokovic, few of his peers on the Tour question his right to be No. 1 after such a strong year.
Djokovic agrees, saying: "I have only words of praise for what he has achieved in the last year or so. Definitely he is a well-deserved No. 1 at this point. He has been the best player for the last six months without a doubt.
"Whether he can sustain that is not a question for me but looking at his qualities and commitment, there is a good chance he can play at this level for a long time."
Djokovic has been in a slump since winning the French Open in June to complete his career Grand Slam, raising questions about his appetite for continued success.
But the 12-time Grand Slam winner might find the O2 Arena is the ideal venue to restore his confidence.
He has won the Tour Finals for the last four years and another success this year would equal Roger Federer's record of six titles.
With the Swiss legend and Spaniard Rafael Nadal both absent owing to injury, Djokovic and Murray will be the centre of attention.
They could have very different paths to the trophy as Djokovic holds a remarkable 23-0 combined record against Milos Raonic, Gael Monfils and Dominic Thiem, who comprise his group-stage opponents.
In contrast, Murray, who has never been past the semi-finals of the event, has to survive a tricky group featuring US Open champion Stan Wawrinka as well as Japan's Kei Nishikori and Croat Marin Cilic, who have both beaten the Scot this year.
ATP WORLD TOUR FINALS
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