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Andy vs. Novak: Who will end the year as world No. 1?

Nov 09, 2016
written by: Rob Cianfarani
written by: Rob Cianfarani
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Strap in everyone, we’re in for a wild finish.

Andy Murray has had quite the year. He won his third Grand Slam title, his second Olympic gold singles medal, AND became a father. Oh and I’m forgetting something, WORLD NUMBER ONE. Murray became the first British man to accomplish this feat and the 26th man to stand atop the rankings. With one tournament left, the question remains, can he keep it?

Let’s take a deeper look at the rankings and understand what the rest of the year has in store for us.

As it stands

Andy Murray has 11,185 ATP ranking points to Novak Djokovic’s 10,780. When we remove the 275 points Murray received for winning Davis Cup last year, he’s down to 10,910 – only a gap of 130 points. Last year’s World Tour Final points are deducted after the final ATP tournament of the year, so it’s all about their performance at the O2 Arena.

Before we get into any of the outcomes, we have to understand the point system in London. The World Tour Finals features a round-robin format, with two groups of four. Each member in each group plays every other member once. The top two from each group advance to the semifinals and then the finals.

For each round robin win, a player receives 200 points. For a semifinal win, a player receives 400 points. For a championship win, a player receives 500 points. An undefeated run will grant the player 1500 points total. So, now that we know the rules, what will happen? There are only two outcomes for the end of the year – will Murray retain or will Djokovic recapture?

Scenario 1: Murray retains world No. 1

Since the Muzzard has a slight lead over Novak in terms of points, Andy’s task is very simple – he has to match Novak Djokovic at the World Tour Finals. If both Andy and Novak make it out of the group stage and play each other, Andy must win to guarantee his ranking (most of the time). If they meet in the semi-final round and Andy wins, he will end the year at world No. 1. If they meet in the final and Andy wins, BOOM, number one. If Novak doesn’t make it out of the group stage and Andy does, oh baby will he ever be the best tennis player in the world.

Beating Djokovic may seem like a tall task, but Murray is riding a 20-match winning streak. His dominance ratio is 1.45 during that streak compared to Novak’s 1.19. Djokovic has had surprising losses to Roberto Bautista Agut and Marin Cilic, both of whom he had never lost to before.

It seems like all the momentum and mojo is in Murray corner: can he convert it into his first year-end world No. 1 ranking?

Scenario 2: Djokovic recaptures top spot

Since Murray’s task was to at least match Djokovic’s point output, Novak has one job – win that one extra match.

For the first time in 2016, Novak Djokovic has the easier draw. He will be playing against three opponents that have NEVER beaten him – a combined 23-0. So what should happen, in other words, what is expected? To calculate how many points each player is expected to leave their round robin group, we can use expected values.

Ivan Lendl group Djokovic win %
Gael Monfils 100%
Milos Raonic 100%
Dominic Thiem 100%


John McEnroe group Murray win %
Kei Nishikori 78%
Stan Wawrinka 56%
Marin Cilic 79%

If Djokovic stays true to his career head-to-head with the players in his group (Raonic, Monfils, Thiem), then his expected value would be 100% x 200 + 100% x 200 + 100% x 200 = 600 points. He is expected to leave the group with all possible points.

When we do the same calculation for Murray against Nishikori, Wawrinka, and Cilic, the expected value comes to 78% x 200 + 56% x 200 + 79% x 200 = 426 points. Adding these round robin points to their current totals, Novak would have 44 more ranking points than Andy. When it comes to past results, advantage Djokovic.

As well, if they did meet in the semis or finals, Djokovic has won 71% of matches against Murray – a number I’m sure he finds comforting. The numbers seem to lie in Novak’s corner, can he shake off a sloppy end to the season, regaining his form and the world No. 1 rank?

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