THAT was then. It was a late summer’s day in a broiling New York and the British press pack scurried towards the media room with the desperate intensity a defeat for Andy Murray demanded.

The Scot had just lost in three dispiriting sets to Marin Cilic in the last 16 of the US Open. Another attempt at a grand slam title had come up short.

There was time for the briefest of reflections just before the clattering of the laptop commenced. “What if,” said an English writer well disposed to Murray, “what if this is as good as it gets? What if Andy is destined to be a contender rather than an achiever? What if all we can expect is the odd tournament win and a decent run in the majors?”

This was 2009. Murray has responded to these queries in his own time. He has now won three majors, including Wimbledon twice, three Olympic medals, two gold, a Davis Cup and is now world No.1.

It has – cue X Factor music – been an extraordinary journey but one that has involved stumbles, falls and mental pain and physical agony. The path from courts in Dunblane to the top of the game has routinely been littered by obstacles.

Much has been made, correctly, of the 29-year-old’s ability to persevere, to endure and finally to overcome.

In truth, this is the only lesson we lesser mortals can take from his ultimate triumph.

Simply, Murray’s reaction to defeat has been superbly Caledonian. He goes into a private huff and then his thrawnness, his innate, unbreakable will kicks in and he decides to go again. It is as if he is perpetually auditioning for the role of the spider in the Robert the Bruce legend of try, try, try again.

This characteristic has been visible in every strained sinew, audible in every anguished cry.

But Murray’s success is not just a matter of determination. How could it be?

One needs much more to be the best in the world. He has certainly been strong in never wavering from his purpose but he has been flexible in how to achieve it. He has changed coaches, altered diets, tweaked fitness programmes.

However, this ascent has not just been a triumph of the will. There is a danger of the size of his achievements are almost diminished by this emphasis on his character.

Murray, of course, has worked, fought and clawed his way to the top. But his precise stature as a tennis player has almost been under-valued.

Even on his coronation as the world’s best there were those who were pointing out that Roger Federer was on the wane, Rafael Nadal was wilting, that Novak Djokovic was being loudly consumed by his private demons.

But every world No.1 succeeds in some small way because of the fallibility of the previous incumbent. And no one, I would suggest, has had to succeed in a more difficult era than the Scot.

The world No.1 spot has been held by three men since 2004. They are, unquestionably, three of the best players ever to lift a racket. Murray was contending with Nadal, brilliant on all surfaces, invincible on clay; Federer, winner of the most grand slams in history; and Djokovic, who achieved an aura through repeated victory that was almost tangible.

Those who point to his eight losses in grand slam finals as a sign of frailty are misguided. Murray only loses in grand slam finals to Federer or Djokovic. He has, of course, beaten both in grand slam finals and Olympic games.

It was Murray’s fate to be born in the most spectacular era of men’s tennis. The sport changed from crude serve and volley to become an artistic, strategic activity that crucially demanded endurance.

Murray is thus not only the best tennis player on the planet but one of the best athletes. He is also one of the most inventive, creative players to adorn the sport.

He does not have the lithe grace of Djokovic or the peerless artistry of Federer or even the bombastic physicality of Nadal. But he has his own singular talent.

The boy from Dunblane has grown to be a wonderful tactician on court, finding ways to disarm the big servers, to confound the artists, to lay subtle waste to those placed in front of him.

His talent has not been diminished by comparisons to the triumvirate of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic. It has been enhanced by them.

The core of Murray is that of a relentless competitor and his landing on planet Earth while three tennis superheroes were performing their acts of wonder could have dented this over the years. Instead, it has sharpened his instincts, raised his game to its proper, rarefied heights.

Indeed, Murray, as lover and a historian of tennis, has often expressed how grateful he is to be playing in such esteemed company. He has now moved above all of them.

He has done so by being extraordinarily resilient, being prepared to accept injury and surgery and then move beyond them, and being determined to be the tennis player his talent demanded.

All this, and more, has made him the best tennis player in the world. The doubts expressed by the press and others on such days as New York 2009 and so many other occasions have perhaps echoed in his head.

But no longer. Murray is not the contender, the chaser or the unlucky loser. All that was then. This is now. He is the best.

Tennis: Tim Henman hails Andy Murray as the 'dominant force' in his sport