A SEASON that started in the blistering heat of Australia, and with a draining semi-final defeat to Novak Djokovic, came to a juddering halt for Andy Murray in the largely hostile atmosphere of the O2 Arena.
The defeat by Roger Federer in the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals on Sunday night will not be allowed to colour a campaign that was splashed with bright, historic success. In the immediate aftermath of defeat by the 31-year-old Swiss player, Murray reflected that he would have "signed up" for his record this season without hesitation in January.
There was a suspicion that Murray was slightly bewildered by the reception in the O2, where Federer's fan club – comprising what seemed like the contents of a flotilla of Swiss Saga cruise ships and home-based Rogerites – clapped when the Scot's first serves hit the net, cheered his errors and whistled when he changed a racket in the tie-break. He was, though immediately focused on what he needs to do to build on a year that brought him Olympic gold and his first major championship, the US Open.
The first casualty of this drive will be the BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony on December 16. Murray will not travel back to London from his training base in Miami to attend the ceremony. "That period of the year for me is so, so important," he explained. "For all of the players, it is the same because we don't have breaks in the year like other sports do for two or three months at a time. Now I will have a week off to rest and go on holiday and then we need to start training again.
"The first tournaments of the year are in one of the hottest places you can play – in the middle of the Australian summer – and missing three or four days of training . . . if I were to get tired in the fifth set of a match in the final of the Australian Open and struggled physically for the last 10 or 15 minutes, who knows, those three days could make that little bit of difference."
Murray, of course, is a contender for the award that has a raft of candidates after an extraordinary summer of sport. "Who knows what will happen on the night," he said. "I don't know who would be expecting to win it. There are so many outstanding performers. Chris Hoy became our most successful Olympian, Bradley Wiggins, what he did, the Tour de France is one of the hardest physical sports by far. Then all the medallists at the Olympics. It is going to be hard to pick."
Murray's focus has shifted to what he needs to do to add to his grand slam victory. "Consistency, I think, is the next thing," he said of his priority. "I have to have that from the first tournament of the year through till the last one. My clay-court game needs to get better. I need to make some changes to the way I prepare for that part of the season. That would be it."
He is pleased with the level he can reach, knowing that when he is at his best he need not bow to anyone, certainly on grass and hardcourt. "When I have played good tennis this season, I have had very good results," he said. "There have just been a few too many times, especially at the beginning of the year, where my intensity was not where it needed to be and my focus in a couple of tournaments.
"I think because I had never won a grand slam, every time I lost in a slam I was almost straight away looking to the next one and not focusing on everything that was going on in between, so that is going to be very important for me next year."
Outside his stellar victories at London 2012 and Flushing Meadows, Murray's only other title was in Doha and he will be seeking to improve on that next season. He will do this without any sense of regret over a year that gave him such joy. It is difficult to appreciate just how much this young man put into winning a grand slam, how much the continual disappointment ate at his soul.
The victory over Djokovic in New York has opened up another world, full of possibilities. Murray is clearly more aggressive in shot-making and tactical selection. The recruitment of Ivan Lendl has been an unqualified success. The Scot now has a coach in his corner who knows precisely the difficulties and stresses that are part of playing at the sharp end of grand slams.
There have been, too, significant improvements in the 25-year-old's forehand and second serve. The first serve, when on target, is increasingly becoming a formidable weapon with Murray forcing them up to speeds of 136mph in the O2.
The story of 2012 is that Federer, the extraordinary athlete and champion, has not gone away and that Djokovic is still lean and mean despite his spate of grand slam success. But Murray has forced him into that narrative. He can look back in satisfaction even as he peers forward in hope.