Five months ago Andy Murray’s critics were sharpening their pencils and wondering aloud whether a promising career was fizzling out before it had got going.
The British No1 had just been knocked out of the Monte Carlo Masters in emphatic style by Novak Djokovic, who was fast leaving his former junior rival behind.
It was a fifth defeat in 11 matches for Murray, whose world ranking had plummeted to 20.
But the brooding 21-year-old can afford a wry smile now.
Although it took until Wimbledon in June for him to recapture his form, he has since improved week-on-week, culminating in his dazzling displays at the US Open.
A brilliant Roger Federer may have denied Murray a fairy tale ending in Monday’s final, but the Scot’s astonishing run was enough to announce his arrival as a serious Grand Slam contender and guarantee his ascension to a British-best equalling ranking of four.
Tim Henman was the last Briton to climb that high, and believes his successor as the country’s top player has the qualities to outstrip Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal as the world’s best.
“I really think he can be No1 in the world,” said Henman. “He is only 21, and from Wimbledon earlier in the year it is amazing how much he has improved.
“Andy has had many big breakthroughs and I think it is phenomenal how quickly his game is improving. He’s up to four in the world now, so it’s on to bigger and better things.
“People were saying he got destroyed by Nadal at Wimbledon but he played the match of his career to beat him in the US Open semis and it won’t be long before he’s even higher.”
That win over Nadal in Murray’s first ever Grand Slam semi-final was his first in six meetings with the powerful Spaniard – the only player ranked above him who he was yet to beat.
A repeat performance against a resurgent Federer proved too much for Murray, who lost 6-2, 7-5, 6-2. But few players could have matched the Swiss, who looked back to his best in New York after losing his world No1 status to Nadal last month.
“I think it is important when you look at the final to applaud how good Federer was because Andy had an unbelievable tournament,” Henman added.
“If you look at some of the tennis Federer played in the final it is easy to see why some people think he is the greatest player to have ever played the game.”
With qualification for the Shanghai Masters – the elite, eight man event in November which brings the curtain down on the 2008 season – now assured, Murray can look forward to locking horns with the very best once again.
Only this time, he will arrive not as a pretender but as one of the tour’s leading lights, and with effusive praise, rather than sceptical criticism, ringing in his ears.