There may have been 32 other players in the singles draw, including former world #1 Novak Djokovic and Grand Slam champions Stan Wawrinka and Marin Cilic, but there was only one name that really mattered: Andy Murray. The Scotsman has not always been hugely popular on the southern side of the border, but since 2012 when his heartbreak at losing the Wimbledon final reduced him to tears, few of his compatriots have not warmed to him.
And he has given them some thrilling moments with a racquet in his hand, the two most significant of which came on that most hallowed of lawns, Centre Court. First in 2012 during the Olympic summer he banished the bitter memories of his defeat to Federer less than a month earlier by destroying the great man, backed by a raucous crowd to win gold. A year later he brought the mighty Djokovic to his knees on that same court to end Britain’s long, long wait for a home grown Wimbledon men’s singles champion.
When he repeated the feat by defeating Milos Raonic in 2016, it seemed like Murray’s chance to dominate had at long last arrived. Djokovic was to spend the remainder of the year in a swift fall from the dominant heights he had so recently scaled whilst Nadal and Federer were, effectively, nowhere to be seen due to injury. Murray took full advantage, ascending to the #1 ranking for the first time in his career and looked on course for a period of dominance of his own.
It wasn’t to be, with injuries troubling him throughout 2017 before a combination of Sam Querrey’s power and a hip problem sent him crashing out of the Wimbledon quarterfinals. It would be 50 weeks and one surgical intervention on that hip before he returned to competitive action. He did so at Queen’s, a tournament he has won five times against Nick Kyrgios, a player he had beaten five times. Unfortunately for Murray, that wasn’t fate and he was defeated 6-2 6-7 5-7.
Positives to focus on
There were some quite legitimate fears, that Murray’s hip injury had effectively finished his career. They can be difficult to recover from for any athlete, but for tennis players, who are often forced to quickly change direction and rely on being able to set off explosively, they are a nightmare. For Murray, whose physicality and speed are crucial aspects of his game, it was perhaps the worst part of his body to pick up such a serious injury.
Fortunately for him, the surgery looks to have worked. He moved much better than when he was last on court, which suggests that his hip problems are behind him. The basics of his game also still looked strong, with the Scot hitting his forehand and backhand well. His serve was also effective throughout, although the familiar weakness of his second serve remained and ultimately cost him the match when he double faulted down match point.
Both the tournament organisers and the man himself will be delighted if Murray is able to compete at Wimbledon, which begins in less than two weeks. But it’s not clear whether that would be a wise decision for Murray, who made a mistake last year in attempting to return for the US Open before his body was ready. And whilst his hip looked secure, Murray was left clutching his back in some discomfort at times in his match against Kyrgios.
It didn’t look like a serious problem, but it is a reminder that players, particularly those as physical as Murray, can’t simply walk back on to the Tour and expect their bodies to react perfectly. All the more so when they’re in their fourth decade. The examples of Federer and Nadal, who have become incredibly careful about when they do and don’t play in order to preserve their bodies would be profitably taken to heart by Murray.
Unless he feels he is really ready for Wimbledon, it would surely be a mistake to risk playing on the grass courts in SW19. Murray may not be as young as he once was, but he still has time left to make impacts on the sport, but if he wants to do so, he must listen to his body. It may be worth missing Wimbledon to give himself a chance for a profitable North American hard court swing, a time he has generally played well. Manage his body properly, and he could be back amongst the winner’s circle soon.