Comment: Warning signs are flashing in Andy Murray’s comeback attempt

Andy Murray looking up

There was no sense of panic as Andy Murray reflected on the latest leg of his comeback bid, but the concern aired by his army of supporters around the world was palpable.

A 6-1, 1-6, 6-4 first-round loss against Lucas Pouille at the Cincinatti Masters event may have sparked fresh concerns over Murray’s hopes of returning to the top of the game, yet this three-time Grand Slam champion appears to be calm about his prospects, in public at least.

With his forehand lacking the punch of yesteryear, Murray won just 32 per cent of points on his second serve and tossed in eight double faults amid a display that highlighted once again that he has the heart of a champion, but the patience he will need to climb back to the top of the game was there to see in a third defeat since he made his comeback at Queen’s Club in June.

Andy Murray removes his cap
Andy Murray removes his cap

“I only lost four more points in the match than him,” Murray said, as he reflected on the loss.

“It was tight. He’s a top 20 player. If I can improve by 10, 15 per cent, you turn a lot of those matches around. So I think also as the year goes on, maybe some of the events I play are maybe not as strong maybe later in the year, so draws can be a little bit different.

“I need to try and string more matches together but it’s tricky in these events. If you’re not seeded, you play top, top quality players early on.”

They were comments that highlighted Murray’s hope that his comeback to the game will be a long-term project, with his suggestion earlier this month that he was aiming to be competitive at the top of the game once again at the start of 2019 a clear attempt to dilute his own expectations for the rest of this year.

Yet what happens if Murray plays the event at Winston-Salem next week and crashes out in the first round? What if he then moves on to New York and is beaten in the opening round of the US Open?

Andy Murray tired
Andy Murray tired

Not all comebacks from injury can be as glorious as those of Andre Agassi, Roger Federer or Novak Djokovic, and Murray is waiting to discover whether he joins the ranks of the mortals and comes up short in his efforts to reclaim former glories or whether he has the capacity to follow in the footsteps of the greats who have defied all logic to clamber back to the top.

The vibes being served up by the former world No 1 would suggest he is not fretting setbacks at this early stage of his return following hip surgery in January, but he will know that the clock is ticking on a career that he confirmed earlier this summer may only have a realistic lifespan of two years.

No one can doubt Murray’s desire to reach his peak once more, with his three battling victories at the Citi Open in Washington earlier this month a tribute to his will to win as his sporting abilities that have inevitably been hampered by his time away from the court, but he may reach a point where his hopes become forlorn.

Djokovic’s return to the top of the game after his injury problems should provide his long-term rival with a blueprint for what may be possible in 2019, but there is little evidence to suggest Murray’s comeback will have the kind of glorious crescendo enjoyed by the Serb as he won Wimbledon for the fourth time in July.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer