Shanghai: Andy Murray's win at the Shanghai Masters confirms he is the man of the moment and marks a potentially decisive watershed as he overtakes Roger Federer in the rankings for the first time.
Victory in China over Spain's David Ferrer on Sunday was the third consecutive title triumph for the 24-year-old Scot after wins in Bangkok and Tokyo and he is on a 15-match winning streak after his triumphant Asian swing.
As of Monday, Britain's Murray will have just Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal ahead of him in the rankings as he targets the year-end number three slot, something he has never before achieved.
Federer, absent from Shanghai, will swap places with Murray, slipping to number four -- his lowest ranking in more than eight years.
The last time the Swiss great was ranked lower than number three was way back in June 2003, the month before he won his first Grand Slam at Wimbledon.
That signalled the start of a period of astonishing dominance in the sport during which he held the number one position for a record 237 consecutive weeks.
Speaking after his 7-5, 6-4 triumph in Shanghai, an upbeat Murray said his ultimate aim remained to go further than toppling Federer or finishing the year ranked third, which in any case was still not guaranteed.
"But, yeah, I mean, 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. So that's obviously a nice thing if I can do it," he said.
Federer's move down the rankings will give extra ammunition to those who believe the Swiss, 30, has seen his best days and is in gradual decline, with Djokovic, Nadal and Murray all still in their mid-20s.
For Federer, 2011 is his first year without a Grand Slam since 2002. He has won just one title, in Doha.
But Murray said it was too soon to write off his Swiss rival, against whom he holds an 8-6 career advantage.
"For a lot of years everything went very right for him. He's had a few tournaments this year where maybe things could have gone his way and they didn't. That's tough. But I'm sure next year he'll be competing. He's still playing great tennis," said Murray.
Murray has been as high as number two in the world, in 2009, but has never ended the year ranked higher than fourth.
But while the Briton has earned a place at tennis's top table, the glaring omission from his CV is a Grand Slam win. He has reached three finals, beaten twice by Federer and then by Djokovic at this year's Australian Open.
His three main rivals have a total of 30 Grand Slams between them. Federer is the all-time leader with 16 and Spain's Nadal has 10.
World number one Djokovic's stellar season, including wins at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, has taken the Serb's tally to four.
Murray remains confident that he will make the long-awaited breakthrough and become Britain's first men’s Grand Slam singles champion since Fred Perry in 1936.
"It's been a tough year in that respect, losing to the very best players" in the Grand Slams, said Murray, who reached at least the semi-finals of all four majors this year.
He was beaten in the Australian Open final by Djokovic and in the semi-finals at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open by Nadal.
"But I feel like I'm still improving. I feel like these last three weeks were a good step for me. That's all you can do is just keep improving," said Murray.
"It's tough to improve by 50 percent at this stage of my career. But if I keep improving just a little bit, my ranking's going in the right direction, I'm winning tournaments, giving myself opportunities at the majors, then I'll win."