For the first time in his life, Andy Murray stands above Roger Federer in the world rankings. A successful defence of his Shanghai Masters title, which he achieved with a 7-5, 6-4 victory here over Spain's David Ferrer in yesterday's final, ensured that Murray will replace the greatest player of all time at No 3 when the updated rankings are published today.
Federer may not be the force he was and Murray knows that the rankings are only part of the overall picture – he did after all reach No 2 two years ago – but the way in which he has achieved one of the goals he set himself at the end of last month's US Open should give him renewed confidence.
Murray had aimed to climb the rankings before the end of the year, but he has done so in just five weeks thanks to a remarkable run on the tour's Asia swing. This was his third title in as many weeks following his triumphs in Bangkok and Tokyo, the first time he has enjoyed such a run. In the space of 18 days he has won 13 matches and more than $1.02m (about £645,000) in prize money.
Since the middle of August Murray has lost just once in 26 matches, to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals of the US Open. While the Scot knows better than anyone that he has yet to play his very best tennis at the conclusion of a Grand Slam event, he has a splendid record in the Masters Series, the nine tournaments just below the highest level. He has played in nine finals and won eight of them. Only Nadal, Federer, Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and Novak Djokovic have won more.
If the absence of the injured Djokovic and Federer has helped Murray to clean up in Asia, there can be no doubt that the Scot has been in some of the best form of his life.
Ferrer, who chases every ball and covers every inch of the court, can make a Trojan look like a slacker, but the world No 5 was eventually worn down by Murray's excellence. After an exchange of breaks in the opening two games the first set remained tight until the Spaniard cracked when serving at 5-5, making three successive errors and a double fault.
Murray served out in emphatic fashion with two successive aces and turned up the pressure again in the second set. Once again both players dropped serve at the start, but at 1-1 Murray secured another break with a superb lob, having cleverly drawn Ferrer into the net. He rarely looked in danger again on his serve and eventually secured victory with a big forehand into the corner.
A jump of joy showed how much the win meant to Murray, who delighted the crowd in his victory speech by reading out a message in Mandarin: "Tennis masters are powerful and unstoppable."
Before the ceremony Murray sat on court sending text messages to Kim Sears, his girlfriend, and to his parents and friends. "My girlfriend is actually flying over to the States today, so I managed to message her just before she left," he said.
Murray admitted that he had been nervous going into the final. "I was really happy with the way I stayed focused," he said. "It's hard to explain. You'd almost think the more matches you win, the less pressure you'd feel. I was hitting the ball well, but there's still a little bit of tension because you want to try and keep the run going."
Adding that he still had work to do to finish the year at No 3, Murray said: "If you finish in front of Federer in a year, then there's not many people over the last five, six, or seven years who have been able to say that."
Murray's other main goal in the coming weeks is to play well at next month's Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London, though he would also love to warm up for the season's finale by winning the Paris Masters, which begins in three weeks' time.
Ferrer believes Murray is good enough to become world No 1. "He serves very well, he has a really good backhand and he doesn't make mistakes," Ferrer said. "He's unbelievable."
Murray added: "I want to try and get to No 1 in the world and to do that you have to win almost every week now because that's what the guys in front of me are doing. I don't know how many people realise how difficult a thing that is to do. It's very, very difficult. I'm just working as hard as I can and being as professional as I can in trying to achieve that."
1 N Djokovic (Serb) 13,860 pts
2 R Nadal (Sp) 10,285
3 A Murray (GB) 7,825
4 R Federer (Swit) 7,780