A place back in the top four is within Andy Murray’s grasp if he can continue his fine end to a difficult season at the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
The 27-year-old slipped as low as 12 in the rankings after the US Open but winning three trophies during a run of six successive tournaments has lifted him back up to number six.
Murray appears finally to have overcome the lingering effects of back surgery last year, with both his fitness and confidence levels prompting hopes he could follow his Wimbledon triumph by winning again on home soil at the O2 Arena.
He currently sits 420 points behind out-of-form Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka in fourth and, with 1,500 points up for grabs to an unbeaten champion in London, there is the potential for Murray to make significant strides.
A top-four seeding for the Australian Open in January would mean Murray could not play Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal until the semi-finals.
Murray said: “I’ll obviously try to finish in the top four if I can but a few weeks ago it was, ’Will he finish in the top 10?’
“I’d love to get there but it’s all a process. With most things in my career, they’ve happened quite gradually so I’m not expecting to finish in the top four.
“If I do, it would be a very good effort after the last few weeks. It’s been a tough year in a lot of respects so I’ll try my best to have a good event and get some good wins under my belt.”
Murray’s reward for battling his way into the eight-man field at the O2 is a round-robin group also featuring Federer and newcomers Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic.
Murray opens the tournament on Sunday afternoon against US Open runner-up Nishikori, the man who sits immediately above him in the rankings.
“He’s made big improvements this year in his game and his ranking, he’s won a number of tournaments, he’s had a lot of matches but also quite a few injuries,” said the Scot.
“He’s played some very good tennis this year. He’s a young guy and he’s going to keep getting better over the next couple of years.”
Nishikori, 24, has yet to take a set off Murray in three previous meetings but the most recent of those was almost two years ago.
The Japanese player said: “I think he’s going to be one of the toughest opponents for me because I haven’t beaten him. He beat me already three times and he’s one of the toughest players on the tour.
“And especially he’s from here and he’s got the home crowd so it’s not going to be easy for me. But I think this is a little bit of a different situation because I’ve been playing one of the best years of my career and beating top-10, top-five guys already.
“I don’t think it’s like I can’t beat him so, if I can play good tennis, I think I will have some chance to win.”
Sunday evening’s match sees Federer take on Raonic, and victories for both Federer and Murray would set up a clash between them on Tuesday.
Winning the group will be important to try to avoid Djokovic, who is on a 27-match winning run indoors, in the semi-finals.
Murray and Federer have played each other three times at the O2 since the tournament moved to London in 2009, with the Swiss winning on each occasion.
Murray cited Federer’s record as one of the best indoor players of all time, but Federer said: “I was actually quite surprised how well I’ve played him here in the past because I thought it was going to be hard, I thought maybe on a couple of occasions I was probably going to lose.
“But things went very well for me. I don’t feel necessarily the surface is crazy helpful for me or for him, I think it’s a very even court for any player.
“He plays well indoors so there’s no reason for him not to do very well here. I’ve had a difficult head-to-head against him and clearly playing him in London is a more difficult challenge than somewhere else in the world.
“Definitely Andy wasn’t himself the first few months of the year, there was no doubt it took him a while to get fully fit again after the surgery and so I’m very happy for him that he’s doing so well again now at the end of the year.
“He put in an unbelievable effort to be here and now he’s got the chance to go higher. He’s one of the favourites to win the tournament.”