It wasn't so long ago that Andy Murray's career seemed a textbook example of bad timing. But he has reversed that impression in a big way during this unpredictable spring and summer, leaving top-ranked Novak Djokovic with a lot to ponder as the US Open approaches.
Murray and his backers could be forgiven for heaving a big sigh and saying, "It's about time."
The game of the 29-year-old Scot matured slowly, out of the sunlight in the long shadow cast by the Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal rivalry -- and the major talent of Djokovic. Unfortunately for Murray, his Serbian rival is best at similar things and most adept on the same surface. There would be no split kingdoms.
Because of all that, Murray's share of the Big Four pie had been limited before this summer to two Grand Slam titles and the 2012 singles gold medal in the London Olympics. He had written his name in the history books as the first guy to lose five Grand Slam finals at the same tournament, the Australian Open.
True, Murray did have 11 Masters 1000 titles going into 2016, but it almost seemed like his more-accomplished peers threw him a bone. Chewing on it seemed to increase his hunger. After losing the French Open final to Djokovic, Murray went on a 22-match winning streak (the longest of his career), which included titles at Wimbledon and the successful defense of his Olympic gold medal.
Murray took the high road after Rio, keeping his commitment to the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati. Jet-lagged and hampered by a sore shoulder, Murray managed to reach the final before falling to Marin Cilic in Sunday's final. Along the way, the No. 2 Scott knocked out Milos Raonic, who thought he had outfoxed everyone by skipping the Olympics.
The current tally for Murray: seven finals in a row , going back to the semifinals of the Monte Carlo Masters.
"I think I'm playing my best tennis just now," Murray told the press after the Cincinnati final. "It's not even close to anything else I had done before. It's been really good."
When he's confident, he can be more dangerous than Djokovic when it comes to ripping off placements and returns. In the Wimbledon final against Raonic, the average rally was shorter during the points Murray served -- despite Raonic's atomic serve and attacking skills. And although more than half of Raonic's serves went unreturned up to the final, Murray sent back almost 75 percent in the championship match.
Not only is Murray playing the best tennis of his career, his Big Four rivals might be at their worst in some time. It's called "good timing." Murray must recognize that, unfamiliar as the concept may be.
Murray can't snatch the No. 1 ranking from Djokovic no matter how things play out in New York City, but he can add credence to the theory that the Big Four has been whittled down to a Towering Two in 2016.
After all, Federer is 34 and out for the year with a bum knee. Nadal showed his signature grit in Rio, but he's more likely to be running on fumes than breathing fire when the US Open begins. Plus, he's still coming back from a wrist injury -- one of the latest in a mounting string of breakdowns.
Djokovic had everyone talking calendar-year Grand Slam at the end of June. Then he was upset during the first week at Wimbledon. He was fired up for Rio but flamed out in singles and doubles in the first round. He hasn't looked so vulnerable since the days when he was better known for his impersonation of fellow players than his emulation of Rod Laver.
"It's obviously disappointing when you get to the final and not win," Murray said. "But it was a very, very positive week considering everything. Mentally, I'm in a good place just now. So I'm looking forward to New York for sure."