DUBAI • It was apt that Andy Murray's flight of about 16 hours from Dubai to Los Angeles on Sunday should have taken the "great circle" route close to the North Pole, with the Briton very much on top of the world after consolidating his No. 1 ranking in the Middle East.
He had every reason to be in buoyant mood before the ATP Masters tournament in Indian Wells after capturing his first title of this year at the Dubai Championships on Saturday, beating Fernando Verdasco 6-3, 6-2 in the final.
The Scot now holds a lead of 2,215 points over Novak Djokovic, the world No. 2 - the largest margin yet of his 18-week reign.
Already Murray has spent more time at the summit of men's tennis than Andy Roddick (13 weeks) and Boris Becker (12), and the 29-year-old has such few points to defend in the next couple of months that he is effectively guaranteed to remain there another 10 weeks, comfortably taking him past Mats Wilander (20).
However, there is another rankings list that Murray is paying more attention to. He was a lowly No. 23 in the Race to London, which collates the points won in 2017, but moved up to No. 7 after his Dubai triumph.
With Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at No. 1 and No. 2 respectively, Murray wants to be the hunter and chase them down, rather than feel like the hunted.
"Now that I've got there, I would obviously like to try and finish the year at No. 1 again," he said.
"But because of the way our ranking system works, you start the year fresh with a clean slate.
"It's motivating for me to see that I am behind Rafa and Roger, to try and catch them, rather than looking at it like, 'I've got a lead, I can sit back and relax for the next few months because it's unlikely anyone can overtake me in the next few weeks'."
With 1,000 ranking points available for the champion in Indian Wells, Murray is keen to perform better at a tournament that he has never won, reaching the final only once, in 2009.
He is hopeful that his earlier arrival this year will help him to adjust to the slower conditions of the Californian desert. "The conditions are very different to Dubai," Murray said as he reflected on his past woes in Indian Wells.
"Last year was terrible preparation, playing indoors for four weeks and going to play in conditions where the ball totally flies through the air, the ball bounces way above your head, after practising on low-bouncing courts.
"This year I get there earlier, hopefully prepare better and give myself a chance to do well."
THE TIMES, LONDON