PARIS — After such a long wait, reaching the summit of men's tennis was an anticlimax for Andy Murray.
Without playing a single point, the Scot ended a seven-year wait to secure the No. 1 spot after advancing to the Paris Masters final following Milos Raonic's withdrawal from the tournament.
Murray found out about Raonic's leg injury just one hour before the big-serving Canadian was scheduled to take on the 29-year-old Briton in the semifinals on Saturday.
"The way that it happened today was quite strange," Murray said. "I had always imagined, obviously, doing it on the court. Like last night, before I went to bed, I was imagining doing it, kind of thinking about it happening on the court after a match."
Raonic, from Thornhill, Ont., had to withdraw because of a tear in his right thigh muscle. Raonic said he will need five to 10 days to recover, a delay putting his participation at the ATP Finals in jeopardy. The elite eight-man tournament starts in eight days in London.
"I'm on the borderline for that," the fifth-ranked Raonic said. "I still have a possibility that I might be able to play."
Despite Raonic's walk-over, Murray gave the Paris fans something to cheer about. He took to the court for a practice session and hit a few shots with the ball boys and girls.
"I'm sure on Monday I'll feel good. But I'm not sure this is right in the rules, but if I get defaulted in the match tomorrow, I don't think I get the points from this week," Murray joked. "So I need to make sure I'm on my best behaviour, keep my racket in my hands, and all will be well on Monday."
Following Djokovic's loss in the quarter-finals in Paris, Murray only needed to make the final to take top spot off the Serb.
"Obviously it's unfortunate the way that it happened today," Murray said. "But it's been many years of work to get here."
When the ATP rankings are published Monday, Murray is guaranteed to hold at least a five-point lead over Djokovic, more than seven years after he reached No. 2 for the first time. Their fight for supremacy will resume in London at the ATP finals later this month.
Murray faces John Isner in the Paris Masters final after the American hit 18 aces to defeat Marin Cilic 6-4, 6-3.
No matter the result of Sunday's final, Murray will become the first Briton to hold the top spot and the oldest first-time No. 1 since John Newcombe at age 30 in 1974.
In an era dominated by the likes of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic, reaching the summit has been a long process for Murray, who has spent 76 weeks at No. 2.
"It's been such a difficult thing to do during my career because of how good the guys around me have been, the guys ahead of me," Murray said.
"It's been really, really hard to do it, been really difficult. Obviously they are three of the best players that have ever played the game ... some of the years that they have had in that period, as well, have been, I mean, ridiculous, really. Like three slams and double slams ... So, you know, it's taken a great year to get there."
A turning point in Murray's career came when he hired Ivan Lendl as a coach in 2011. During their first stint together, Lendl managed to turn Murray from a four-time Grand Slam runner-up into a two-time major champion.
Murray won Olympic gold in London in 2012 and the U.S. Open title later the same year. In 2013, he became the first British man to triumph at Wimbledon in 77 years.
Before winning the U.S. Open, Murray was 0-4 in Grand Slam finals. Only one other man in the Open era, which began in 1968, lost his first four major titles matches — Lendl. The Czech-born baseline player then went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles during a 17-year career, spending 270 weeks at No. 1 in the world rankings.
Murray replaced Lendl with Amelie Mauresmo in 2014. Though the Frenchwoman helped him climb back up the rankings following back surgery, the partnership ended in May this year without any new major title. Lend reintegrated Murray's performance team before Wimbledon, a week after the Scot lost to Djokovic in the French Open final, to work alongside Murray's full-time coach Jamie Delgado.
The move paid off immediately: Murray claimed a second title at the All England Club and a second gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Last week in Vienna, he won the Erste Bank Open for his third straight tournament and has lost only 3 matches since the French Open.
"Ivan has obviously helped me a lot in the periods we have spent with each other. The first time I have the best period of time in my career, and obviously since Wimbledon it's been a great run," Murray said.
Djokovic held the top spot for 122 consecutive weeks, and 223 weeks overall. But after winning the French Open for the first time in June, his form has taken a dip. He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, and in the first round of the Olympics. At the U.S Open, he won the first set in the final but Stan Wawrinka rallied to beat him.
One person was quick to congratulate Murray on Saturday — his mother Judy.
"You've come a long way baby," Judy Murray tweeted , with an old photo of the two of them on a tennis court followed by the number 1 and a heart.