2016 has been a strange year.
Everything seemed in order when Novak Djokovic cleaned up the first half of the campaign, but a year that threatened to become another Djokovic procession was dramatically turned on its head at the mid-way point as an unforeseen Djokovic slump and a stunning Andy Murray surge combined to yield one of the most compelling finales in tour history.
World number one, Murray and world number two, Djokovic go head-to-head in the final of the ATP World Tour Finals- with the winner claiming the prestigious year-end number one ranking.
This is- the perfect script.
Djokovic’s stratospheric levels might have dipped post Roland Garros, but the Serbian had a significant enough lead in the rankings that the possibility of him losing the top spot before the end of the year wasn’t initially conceived, let alone whispered, but as Andy Murray racked up win after win, and title after title, what was previously improbable had become a real possibility.
Murray had launched a full-blown assault on Djokovic’s position, and by the end of the Paris Masters, the Scot had overtaken his Serbian adversary on top of the world.
It needed a special run from a special player; Andy Murray is that special player.
But the job isn’t done yet.
The world number one is currently on a 23-match winning streak, but he must win one more match to hang on to that ranking and finish the year on top of the world for the first time in his career.
Novak Djokovic dominated the first half of the season; Andy Murray bossed the second half. The two juggernauts have managed to avoid each other since their French Open meeting in June, but there will be no hiding place on Sunday when they collide to effectively decide who has been the best player in 2016.
Djokovic and the O2 Arena have struck up a beautiful chemistry over the years, and the Serb has looked more like his old self at a venue where he has been triumphant in each of the last four years.
All that talk of lack of motivation seem to have been cast aside, with the world number two displaying a renewed focus as he bids to reclaim the top ranking from Murray.
While Djokovic showed signs of his unrivalled powers of recovery to ease past Dominic Thiem after dropping a tight first set in his opening match in London, it was in his second match against an inspired Milos Raonic that he rekindled the lost art of simply refusing to lose.
The dead rubber against David Goffin was always going to be more exhibition than competition, and by the time he played Kei Nishikori in the semi-finals, Djokovic was in full flow, dismantling the Japanese with his suffocating defence and meticulously crafted offence.
Djokovic’s relatively straightforward route has been sharply contrasted by Murray’s roller-coaster ride in London.
The Scot has made a habit of breaking records during this lengthy winning streak, but he would not have subscribed to setting the record for the longest ever three-set match at the World Tour Finals. He has done it twice already- in his second group match against Nishikori, and in his semi-final against Raonic.
He surely must be close to running on empty.
Murray admitted to being tired after his marathon against Raonic, and fatigue could well be a factor on Sunday against an opponent who specializes on long drawn-out points.
It will be interesting to see if Murray deviates from his natural game and adopts a more aggressive approach in the final.
Djokovic has dominated this rivalry, winning 24 of their 34 meetings, including 13 of the last 15, and with the Serbian gradually rediscovering his best form, and with the added luxury of an easier run-in, he holds the edge in what promises to be another absorbing contest.