AP

Murray eyes top ranking after victory in Shanghai

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SHANGHAI — Andy Murray’s season is turning out even better than he expected: He’s won a second Wimbledon title and a second Olympic gold medal, and reached the finals at the Australian Open and French Open.

And on Sunday, he clinched his sixth title of the year with a 7-6 (1), 6-1 victory over Roberto Bautista Agut at the Shanghai Masters, matching his season-high total from 2009.

Now the Scot has his eyes set on yet another prize: the No. 1 ranking. It may be difficult to catch Novak Djokovic this year, but Murray is closing in on his rival.

“I will try to finish this year as strong as I can. And next year if the opportunity is there to reach No. 1, then I want to try and take it,” Murray said. “It’s going to be a tough thing to achieve that. I’m aware of that.”

“But I believe I can get there. … These last few months have proved that to me.”

With Roger Federer injured, Rafael Nadal still trying to regain his confidence and Djokovic dealing with the effects of an exhausting season, Murray has established himself as the dominant force in the game as the year winds down.

He credits the return of Ivan Lendl to his coaching team, coupled with his victory at Wimbledon after several tough losses in slam finals, for giving him the belief he could compete for major championships again.

“It helped motivate me,” he said. “Really since the French Open, (I’ve) played the best three months of tennis of my career.”

He hasn’t let up in the post-U.S. Open final stretch of the season, either. Since arriving in China two weeks ago, he hasn’t lost a set in 10 matches and has captured back-to-back titles at the China Open and Shanghai Masters.

Murray’s win on Sunday was also his tour-best 65th of the season and gave him his 41st career title, tying Stefan Edberg for 15th place on the all-time list.

Bautista Agut made it hard for him at the start, however. The Spaniard, equally at home on hard courts as he is on clay, pinned Murray to the back of the court with powerful forehands and sharp angles for much of the first set, keeping the second-seeded Scot on the defensive and forcing him to make errors.

Serving for the set at 5-4, Murray appeared distracted by movement in the crowd and wasted three set points before Bautista Agut broke back to level the match. Murray settled down in the tiebreaker, however, and closed out the second set in just 31 minutes.

He had 16 unforced errors in the opening set, but only three after that.

While Murray still has a couple of tournaments left this year, including the ATP Tour Finals in London, he’s already looking forward to next season and his next major challenge of overtaking Djokovic for the No. 1 ranking, which the Serb has held since July 2014.

The timing couldn’t be better.

Djokovic has been off his game since completing his career Grand Slam with a victory at the French Open earlier this season and has talked in recent weeks about putting less pressure on himself to win more slams and hold onto the top ranking.

Bautista Agut said he thinks the way Murray is playing, it’s only a matter of time.

“Andy is doing everything to get Novak,” he said. “I can see it in his eyes. He’s really focused on getting No. 1.”

Two-time champ Azarenka gets Australian Open wild card

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) Two-time former champion Victoria Azarenka has been awarded a wild card for the Australian Open.

Azarenka, who won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, has been involved in a custody dispute involving her son Leo, who was born last Dec. 19.

She hasn’t competed anywhere since Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep in the fourth round on July 10. The dispute with her former partner started shortly after Wimbledon ended.

Azarenka has played only six matches this year and is ranked 208th.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said on Wednesday that every assistance would be provided to the former No. 1, adding “Vika’s current situation is obviously very difficult for her and we have reached out to offer any support we can.”

The Australian Open starts on Jan. 15.

Nadal, Muguruza win ITF player of the year awards

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LONDON — Rafael Nadal and Garbine Muguruza have won the International Tennis Federation’s player of the year awards.

At 31, Nadal becomes the oldest ITF men’s world champion after a season in which he won a 10th French Open and a third U.S. Open.

The Spaniard also became the oldest player to finish the year at No. 1 since the ATP rankings began in 1973.

Muguruza dropped only one set en route to her first Wimbledon title and finished the year at No. 2 behind Simona Halep.

“Becoming ITF world champion in such a competitive year is amazing for me,” said Muguruza, who is also Spanish. “(Nadal) is a great role model for all of us, so it is a great moment for tennis in Spain.”