It wasn’t even that victory gave him his 11th Masters title in Montreal on Sunday night, the 35th of his career, and moved him ahead of Roger Federer at No2 in the ATP rankings to guarantee him a place alongside Djokovic in the end-of-season World Tour Finals in London. Nor was it just that he looks in great shape heading for Cincinnati this week then Flushing Meadows at the end of the month.
What impressed about Murray’s 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 win in the Roger-less Rogers Cup was the sheer perversity of it. We have been here so many times before that watching him is like being led towards the edge of a cliff and teetering there before he drags us back to safety.
Perversity is the one quality Murray possesses above all others – and it separates him from the herd. No one shreds nerves like Andy Murray.
Djokovic, similarly, is gifted with the stubborn gene but has his flakey moments, and there were a few of those in Montreal; Rafael Nadal until his extended slump, could pluck lost causes from impossible positions; while Federer – who is not shy of a fight – has always relied on sheer brilliance to get him out of trouble and on to the podium.
As for the rest of the field, there is no one to match Murray for doing things the hard way. In the first set, he showed all the excellence he had displayed in dismissing a plainly bewildered Kei Nishikori in the semi-final – and then some. Djokovic did well to level the final at a set apiece but Murray was cruising again in the third, 3-1 up and serving. What, as they say, could possibly go wrong?
For more than a quarter of an hour Murray suffered when he should have been thriving – due in no small part to Djokovic’s hunger for the fight and a string of extraordinary saves under extreme pressure. It was mutual, however, and compelling, as most of their fights are, or used to be. Six times Murray had to save break point and six times he produced the goods, before finally pinning his man.
Djokovic, though, was not done. He held without fuss then got to 3-5. Anxiety looked to flood Murray’s face – although it is hard to tell; except when finishing off a lesser opponent in a hurry, he invariably wears the visage of someone who has just had a winning lottery ticket recalled.
Yet those of us who have been through this too many times for the good of our collective heartbeat sensed he would hold it together – just as he did to beat Djokovic in that nerve-racking finish to the 2013 Wimbledon final - which had been his last victory over the supreme Serb.
Now Murray is back in a winning groove. Fully fit, strong and content, he is having his most consistent season, better even than when he was with Ivan Lendl, with whom he won Olympic gold and his two slams.
Now Murray is focused on New York and the US Open, scene of his first major, when he ran Djokovic into the ground for the first set and a half before dipping and coming back again at the end.
Murray is not like other tennis players. He is very much his own man, doing it his own way. Certainly, he has grafted on rediscovered aggression under the guidance of Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman, the Swede sitting in for the French coach in Canada while she was at home in Paris to give birth to her first child.
“This one’s for Amélie,” Murray said in his victory speech. True and very nice of him to say so. (Maybe she’ll call the boy Andy; maybe he and Kim will call their first Mauresmo – or maybe not). Ultimately, the result is always down to the player himself, the most enigmatic in the modern game, certainly the most watchable for drama.
If he stays true to his nature, while heeding the sensible advice of his mentors, Murray has a very good chance of winning his third major in about a month’s time. On grit and talent, he deserves it.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010