Andy Murray will step onto the tennis court at Queen’s Club on Tuesday for his first competitive match in 342 days.
Eleven long months have passed since the last time we saw him in action, that being a five-set quarter-final exit to American Sam Querrey at Wimbledon last year.
The Scot’s troublesome and long-term right hip injury forced his 2017 campaign to come to a premature end after that.
Wear and tear caught up with a man who, let’s not forget, was World No1 at the time and had to fight tooth and nail for it, over-playing in the latter part of 2016, to reach the summit of men’s tennis for the first occasion in his career.
In a sense, after that, a natural slump was always going to come for the then 30-year-old but he could not have foreseen what was coming, even though he has become accustomed to long spells on the sidelines before.
An enforced break from tennis, post-Wimbledon and between July 2017 and December of the same year, should have helped him solve his chronic hip pain but that unfortunately didn’t prove to be the case.
Murray tried to muster up a return at this year’s Australian Open in January but realised the only solution to rid himself of the problem – and take a gamble at that – was to have surgery on his hip in Melbourne.
The road back since has felt long, if only a matter of months in 2018, with several false downs where the three-time major winner looked like returning sooner than his scheduled appearance in west London this week.
Murray, who faces the mercurial and unpredictable Nick Kyrgios – a great friend of his – in his opening match, has “zero expectations” about how he moves forward from here and with SW19 on the horizon next month.
He is definitely right to play down his return, given he has dropped down to 157 in the men’s rankings and only made a last-minute call to play at Queen’s minutes before the draw was made.
Indeed, the fact he decided to play Queen’s based on how well he felt getting up in the morning after playing back-to-back practice sets with Brit Cameron Norrie spoke volumes and is not the best sign of where he is at.
Andy Murray is back!
— Fever-Tree Championships (@QueensTennis) June 16, 2018
Keeping expectations low is a good thing, but it is worrying he has revealed he still experiences hip pain. Moving forward, that will be tough for him to contend with mentally, especially on grass – a surface notorious for its slippy nature early on in tournament play.
With all that said, if one sportsman was to complete a miraculous comeback and get back to his best, it would be Murray. He is a man who prides himself on complete professionalism.
If Murray cannot come back, then who can? When you factor in the superb physical and technical support team he has always had working with him, it goes to show how difficult the journey back is, whoever you are.
As we have seen with Novak Djokovic, with the Serb also having had surgery this year – on his elbow, post-30, the slide can be quick and brutal in tennis even if you are on the match court.
Results haven’t gone to plan for him and Djokovic is in a difficult place about where he goes from here. However, for starters, Murray will see him at Queen’s along with Stan Wawrinka who also features in a stacked draw.
The evergreen Roger Federer, who turns 37 in August, is at his vintage best physically and along with Rafael Nadal has gobbled up the past six Grand Slams between them, so in a sense, Murray has to keep believing that his best is not behind him.
Federer is a freak in the case of how he has stayed virtually injury-free but he has benefitted from a low-impact, seamless playing style – Murray, Djokovic and Nadal haven’t had that luxury.
It would be great to see Murray mimic that of a Federer and enjoy and upturn in fortunes during the latter stages of what has been a remarkable career, in which he has virtually nothing left to prove.
It is not time to judge where he is at yet, nor after Queen’s. He needs several more months before the jury can be truly out. Still, Murray faces a huge uphill task.
In his absence on tour, the likes of Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Grigor Dimitrov have yet to step up and win majors, which will give the 31-year-old hope there is still a chance for him to use his experience to effect in the second-half of the season.
The tendency is always to look ahead in sports and at what’s next. In Murray’s case, it feels like his return to the court should be savoured and the emphasis on how he pulls up short-term.
Andy Murray’s competitive return has been delayed, raising fresh doubts about his participation at Wimbledon.
The former world No1 has not played since he was knocked out of the Wimbledon quarter-finals last July due to a hip injury.
Murray insists he remains hopeful of returning at this year’s tournament, but the Scot has now pulled out of his planned comeback event in s-Hertogenbosch, Holland, which starts on Monday.
Having only returned to the practice court over the last couple of days, Murray faces a race against time to be fit for Wimbledon on July 2.
“It is with regret that I won’t be ready to play in s-Hertogenbosch,” he said.
“I was excited to play there for the first time, but I am not quite ready to return. I am still aiming to play in the coming weeks, but I want to be 100 per cent when I do return.”
Murray underwent hip surgery in Australia in January after pulling out of the Australian Open.
The 31-year-old will make a decision on whether he will enter the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club, which begins on June 18, next week.
Andy Murray revealed recovering from hip surgery has been “harder” than his previous fitness problems as he confirmed his intention to play at the Citi Open in Washington ahead of the US Open.
The 30-year-old former world number one only recently returned to the training court as he continues his rehabilitation after going under the knife in Melbourne in January.
Murray will make a late decision on whether to play in the Challenger Tour event in Glasgow starting on April 30, one of two new second-tier tournaments announced by the Lawn Tennis Association last month, partly with the Scot’s return in mind.
The Briton could also play in Loughborough towards the end of May while, if he wants extra grass-court play, there is another Challenger in Surbiton beginning on June 4.
Murray is expected to return to main ATP Tour action at the Libema Open in the Netherlands in June, the grass-court tournament taking place the week before the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club.
It is not the first testing experience Murray has endured to work his way to full fitness again, having gone through a back operation in 2013.
Murray, though, told the Washington Post: “This time has been harder.”
He added: “There’s been a lot more ups and downs this time. It’s been longer and a lot more complex than the back issue.
“Having been through a back injury and a difficult surgery before helps, but the back injury was easier because I was back on the court competing quite soon afterwards.
“I will enjoy it more (returning to action). I think when you go through an injury like this you realise how much you miss playing, how important it is to you.
“I like pressure, I miss that, something that you don’t get in day-to-day life, something that I’ve had as part of my life for, well it’s been 13, 14 years since I became a pro. I miss that, I miss the competition.
“There will always be pressure there, but I’ll definitely make sure I enjoy it more and make sure I don’t get too down with a bad result or a tough loss and not get too high when things are going well.
“You never quite know what’s around the corner. I certainly never anticipated something like this, so I certainly won’t take anything for granted when I come back.”
Three-time Grand Slam winner Murray is looking forward to the hard-court tournament at the Rock Creek Park Tennis Center.
“I enjoyed it both the two times that I played (previously). I was pretty young the first time, I had a good run there. This year has been difficult with injury and obviously I’ve been trying to play matches once I come back,” he said.
“It’s a nice tournament, good conditions, nice and warm, and the players get looked after very, very well there.
“I like it, even though it didn’t go well the last time I was there. Me and my team had a good time there and wanted to come back.”