Andy Murray’s incredible comeback journey shows he will continue to defy the odds

Just under nine months ago, Andy Murray stood on the Melbourne Arena court and watched a litany of famous tennis names pay tribute to him. He had just lost in five sets in the first round of the Australian Open, a tournament that he had made the final of on five occasions. This seemed like the end of an illustrious career which had seen the Scot win three Grand Slam titles, two Olympic gold medals and awarded a knighthood. However, on Tuesday it was announced that Murray would make his grand slam singles comeback at the Australian Open in 2020.

This is a huge turnaround from the last couple of years, after a mass of hip injuries started to impact Murray’s career, which ended his season in July of 2017. A further hip surgery in January 2018 didn’t improve his fortunes, with the US Open being the only grand slam he played in, losing in the second round. He continued playing until the end of the season but it was clear that something wasn’t right. He then broke down in a press conference before the Australian Open where he said it could be his last tournament.

 

He could have played on but deemed it would be detrimental to his long-term health. So at the end of January, he underwent hip resurfacing surgery. Murray did this in the knowledge that he may never be able to play the sport that had consumed much of his life. The only other tennis player that had undergone this surgery and continued to play was Bob Bryan, who alongside his brother Mike, make up one of the most successful doubles team in tennis history.

It was in the doubles where Murray started his comeback. His return could barely have gone any better, winning the Queen’s Club doubles title alongside Feliciano Lopez and perhaps most importantly playing four times in four days. The week in London showed that, while Murray had some way to go, a return to singles competitions were a real possibility.

After playing in four more doubles tournaments, Murray made his singles return in a losing effort to Frenchman Richard Gasquet in Cincinnati, just seven months after it looked like his career was over. He continued his comeback in Winston-Salem where again he lost in the first round. The Scot then decided to forego the glitz and glamour of the US Open in New York to play in a Challenger – tennis’ second tier – event in Mallorca, where in the first round he faced a 17-year-old Frenchman without an ATP ranking. If anyone could doubt Murray’s desire to return, then his decision to play in a lower tier event just to play more matches put those claims to rest.

Murray’s return really picked up steam with a trio of tournaments in China. He won his first tour match back in Zhuhai against American Tennys Sandgren, while in Beijing he beat US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini on his way to the quarter-finals. In his latest tournament, the Shanghai Masters, Murray lost in the second round to world number 12 Fabio Fognini in three closely fought sets. A confrontation towards the end of the third set showed that the Scotsman hadn’t lost any of the fighting spirit in his time away from the court.

In the past, players in their early 30s would be winding down their careers, Pete Sampras being a prime example. Sampras won his 14th major title at the 2002 US Open at the age of 32 and never played another tour match. However, in recent years, men’s tennis has become dominated by older players. In fact, the youngest active male player to have won a major title is 31-year-old Marin Cilic, with only six men winning the 40 grand slams up for grabs this decade. This shows that in the three years since 32-year-old Murray won his last Wimbledon title, the men’s game hasn’t moved forward that much.

Despite this, Andy Murray has a long way to go to reach the heights of earlier in his career but the very fact that he is back playing competitively is an achievement in itself. However, Murray has already shown that he will not settle for mediocrity.

 

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