After suffering defeat to Rafael Nadal in the US Open semi-finals in 2011, there was a fear that Andy Murray's season would peter out after another year went by without the Scot winning a Grand Slam title, but rather than sit back and reflect on what had been another near miss, Murray used the Asian swing to build some momentum ahead of the final Masters Series events of the year.
Murray dropped just three sets on the way to claiming trophies at the Thailand Open and Japan Open, with his triumph in Tokyo being completed with a come-from-behind win against Nadal, and ahead of the Shanghai Masters, he was regarded as the favourite to retain a title that he had won 12 months earlier with a straight-sets demolition of Roger Federer. The Swiss, as well as Novak Djokovic, was missing from the tournament in China but with all of the other big-hitters present, it was considered an important event to win.
The 24-year-old's campaign would begin with a walkover against Dmitry Tursunov before he required three sets to see off Stanislas Wawrinka in the last 16. Wins over Matthew Ebden and Kei Nishikori would follow before he arrived in the final to face David Ferrer, who had been required to go the distance to claim victories over Juan Carlos Ferrero, Andy Roddick and Feliciano Lopez. The odds were stacked against Ferrer, however, with the Spaniard having spent more time on court than his opponent, while Murray had beaten him 6-3 6-2 a week earlier.
In the early stages of the final that took place on this day four years ago, Ferrer showed little sign of fatigue as he matched Murray blow for blow. While Murray had eyes on replacing Federer as world number three, Ferrer had his own ambitions of moving past Murray into the number four position, and for 10 games he suggested that he could cause a surprise in the Chinese city. However, in the 11th game, Ferrer double-faulted at the wrong moment to give Murray the break, before the three-time major finalist sent down two aces to serve out the set.
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Murray broke his opponent for a second time at the start of the next set, but Ferrer, who had reached the semi-finals of the Australian Open at the start of that year, struck back immediately as Murray threw in a couple of double faults. To his credit, though, Murray was able to channel his frustration into registering a third break in succession to establish a 3-1 lead, and although Ferrer threatened a comeback towards the end of the second set, Murray was able to serve out the remainder of the contest to run out a 7-5 6-4 victor.
After the match, Murray commented on moving above Federer, who had slipped down to his lowest position in the rankings since June 2003, saying: "I'm still not guaranteed to finish at number three at the end of the year, I'm going to have to win some more matches. But, if you finish in front of Federer in a year, then there's not many people the last five, six, seven years that have been able to say that."
Murray would end his year with appearances at the Paris Masters and the ATP Tour Finals, but neither tournament would go to plan. After losing to Tomas Berdych in the last 16 in Paris, Murray would be forced to withdraw from the end-of-season finals after sustaining a groin injury in his first match with Ferrer. It was a tough conclusion to what had been a successful three months for the Dunblane hitter, and he would head into 2012 having been relegated back down to world number four after Federer emerged victorious in England's capital.