The 29-year-old Scot is trying to chase his Serbian rival down and moved closer by winning the China Open — his fifth title of the season and the 40th of his career on the ATP Tour.
Murray’s latest victim was Grigor Dimitrov, the flamboyant Bulgarian who produced his usual range of extravagant shotmaking but not enough consistency to derail his opponent in Beijing.
Jo Konta’s earlier defeat meant that there was not to be an unprecedented British double at a tournament of this size, but Murray delivered with a 6-4, 7-6 victory that took a shade under two hours.
These are the kind of bread and butter events you need to win in order to reach top spot — Djokovic has won in Beijing six times — and it puts Murray back on track after he showed signs of fatigue at the US Open and the subsequent Davis Cup semi-final.
The world No 2 took a break after Glasgow and looks suitably refreshed for the last leg of a season which will end with the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals at the O2 Arena next month.
When the new rankings come out this morning he will still be 3,695 points behind Djokovic in the official listings, which are based on results over the past 12 months. However, if this season is looked at in isolation the lead is a less significant 1,555 points, and there are plenty enough left to play for this year for the situation to shift substantially before tennis’s brief hibernation.