Tennis No.1 Andy Murray relishes fight to stay ahead of rival Djoko
It hardly sounds like an ambitious goal for a man who has just reached No.1 in the world rankings by winning his fourth tournament in a row, but Andy Murray will go into the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in London hoping "not to go and play bad matches or bad tennis".
The season-ending showpiece, which brings together the year's most successful eight players, starts at the O2 Arena on Sunday with Murray as the top seed for the first time. In the absence of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have both absented themselves from the tour until the start of next year, Murray will clearly be the main attraction at an event where he has not always played his best.
Murray, who has never reached the final, is joined in London by Novak Djokovic, whose 122-week run at the top of the world rankings officially ended yesterday, Stan Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Kei Nishikori, Gael Monfils, Marin Cilic and Dominic Thiem.
Although Murray's victory on Sunday in the Paris Masters final gives him a lead of 405 points at the top of the rankings, Djokovic will retake top spot if he claims the London title for the fifth year in a row and wins all three of his round-robin matches.
Asked if preserving his No.1 status would be an extra incentive for him, Murray said: "I'll speak to my team about it in a few days. Obviously it would be nice to finish No.1, but I'm happy that I got there and now I'd like to finish the year as best as I possibly can.
"It would be nice to win in London, but I've never really played well there so the first part is to try to play good tennis.
"I want to try to play as well as I can there. (Being No.1) doesn't guarantee wins against the best players, but I just don't want to go and play bad matches or bad tennis."
Murray said he did not know how it would feel to go into the tournament as the favourite and top seed.
"I've never done that before so I don't know if I'm going to feel differently or if I will feel any extra expectations or not," he said.
Even if Djokovic reclaims the No.1 spot in London, Murray will have a good chance to turn the tables again next year, when the Serb has 3,050 more points to defend than the Scot in the first three months after his all-conquering run at the start of last year.
Leon Smith, Britain's Davis Cup captain, said: "The way the points system works he's got a good opportunity if you look at the first quarter of 2017, with two big Masters Series events in Indian Wells and Miami where he didn't perform at his best so he doesn't have many points to defend. That's an opportunity for him.
"Andy's so professional and diligent with the process he goes into that he won't start thinking too far ahead and worry too much about holding on to it.
"It will be about going back every single day and for him, after a couple of days' rest, he'll be starting up again for the World Tour Finals next week.
"It's been a long time since people have been battling it out for that year-end spot and that will be the case for Andy and Novak."
Guy Forget, the former World No.4 who is now the tournament director at both the Paris Masters and the French Open, believes that Murray could stay at the top for a long time.
"When you look at the age of the top players in the last few years, a lot of them were over 30-years-old," he said.
"With the mental and physical aspect, you need a lot of experience to deal with all those things. I think it is his time.
"If he stays focused, he seems to be at a point in his life where he is very well balanced with a wonderful wife and kid and everything is stable. That is one of the reasons he plays so well. We are all very happy for him.
"Maybe after reaching such a great goal he will open himself up even more. If he does it, he will be even more popular. I think a lot of people don't really know him and because he is so focused and so hard on himself, you get the wrong impression of him.
"When you get to know him he is a wonderful man, very polite and generous."