Andy Murray expressed his disappointment as he lost the first singles match of his comeback against Richard Gasquet and yet his words will have disguised some relief.
Murray wasted little time in confirming he will not take up the offer of a wild card to play singles at the US Open later this month, but the reasons behind that decision suggest he is thinking about the long game rather than a short-term attempt to relive former glories.
A 6-4, 6-4 defeat against Richard Gasquet at the Cincinnati Masters was a triumph in so many requests for the former world No.1 who appeared to have waved farewell to the game after his first-round defeat against Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open last January.
As the tears flowed for Murray before, during and after that match, a moment like this in front of the watching world was inconceivable and yet there was so much to be encouraged by as the Scot warmed to his challenge in what was only his 17th singles match since his Wimbledon quarter-final defeat against Sam Querrey in July 2017.
This is a player who had effectively come to terms with his own retirement not so long ago, yet he looked surprisingly sharp and showed good movement over the course of a match that saw him show good signs on his serve as the match progressed.
In a revealing post-match interview, Murray admitted he had got into bad habits as he battled hip problems for the last three years and more, with a remodelled service action introduced due to his struggles to explode into the service motion due to his injury.
He also admitted that he failed to chase down some of Gasquet’s drop shots as he had stunted his movement on the court due to his physical restrictions that he insisted were not a factor in his defeat in Cincinnati.
“I don’t really know what I was expecting, to be honest,” he stated. “I did okay, but there was a lot of things I would like to have done better, but you have to be realistic about how much you can expect.
“There was a few times when he hit drop shots and I didn’t even run for the ball. That had nothing to do with my hip, that was just me not running for the ball. If I got back over the last 18 months, it was really sore doing that and I just wasn’t running for them (drop shots) and it was just a bad habit I got into.
— Western & Southern Open (@CincyTennis) August 12, 2019
“Also on the serve, I made changes. I couldn’t serve the same, so I had to change the technique on the serve because I couldn’t push up as much as before. Now I can serve better and I can serve harder, which is obviously a positive.
“Even though I didn’t realise I was compensating, there was a lot of things I couldn’t do properly and I need to work hard physically to get myself back into a position to win matches like this.
“The thing is, I haven’t played many matches for a long time. It’s not like I just haven’t played for seven months. I haven’t played before then either. It’s going to take time and it’s not going to come back in one week or one tournament. To get back to where I want to get to will take a lot of time and a lot more work.
“What I knew I would get out of this week is I knew I would get a lot of information and learn. There is a lot of things I can do to get better physically and hopefully I can do that in the next few weeks and play a few more matches.”
Murray’s swift decision to turn down a US Open wildcard was made for him in many respects, as tournament officials were demanding he made a decision on his participation at Flushing Meadows straight after his match against Gasquet, yet that would have been a reckless move from a 32-year-old feeling his way back into the game.
He doesn’t know if he can stand up to five-set matches in the New York heat and for that reason, he is right to play a longer game and focus on playing in the event at Winston-Salem next week and continuing his comeback in Asia at the Zhuhai Championships and China Open next month.
So while his fans may be disappointed that Murray will not be playing singles at the event that saw him win his first Grand Slam title back in 2012, the positives from this maiden comeback appearance far outweigh any negatives.
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