Andy Murray appears to have thrown everything behind his latest bid to make successful comeback from injury, but what options remain should it fail? Kevin Palmer offers some insight.
Andy Murray has yet to hit a ball in anger in the 2019 tennis season and yet already the warning signs are flashing.
The three-time Grand Slam champion will make his latest attempt to get back on court when he takes on Australian wildcard James Duckworth at the Brisbane International on Tuesday, with the Scot’s pre-tournament comments dampening down expectations for his fans around the world.
After opting to end an injury-hit 2018 season that featured just six tournament appearances, Murray revealed he is still suffering with pain in the hip he had surgery a year ago and concedes he does not know whether what is almost certain to be his final comeback effort will succeed.
“There are still things that I want to achieve,” he said. “Whether I am capable of that, I don’t really know. I still have some pain (in his hip), so I need to play matches and see how it feels. Last year when I came here I was struggling quite a lot, but it feels better than then.”
They were hardly words to fill Murray’s fans will hope that he believes his 18-month battle with the hip problem he had surgery on in Australia a year ago is coming to an end, with the next month likely to reveal whether the 31-year-old still has what it takes to compete at the highest level.
In essence, this is Murray’s second comeback effort after a brief return to the court last summer saw him show flashes of brilliance and grimaces of discomfort as he picked up wins against his former top ten rivals Stan Wawrinka and David Goffin, yet the on-court staying power that was one of the trump cards for the former world No.1 may have been lost for good.
“He has been away from the game for a long, long time and that makes it tough to come back to the levels we got used to seeing from him,” former British No.1 Greg Rusedski told tennis365.com last month.
“For Andy to be successful, he needs to be able to play week after week, build momentum once again and if he can do that in 2019, maybe he can be a threat at the top of the game once again.
“You look at a player like Stan Wawrinka coming back after knee surgery this year and he has had some big wins, but the consistency has not been there and that’s because he cannot play at the level he wants to week-in, week out.
“Andy has not played too many games since Wimbledon 2017 and it will be a long road back for him, but he deserves to do whatever he likes after what has been an amazing career and we know he will be fighting to get back to peak fitness in the New Year, but it won’t be easy for him to get back to the levels he wants to be at.”
With his ATP ranking down at 240, Murray will not want to put himself through the pain barrier unless he feels he can compete for the biggest prizes in the sport and he should get a better insight into how possible that might be in the next three weeks.
A run to the latter stages of the Brisbane International will be tough to piece together as potential clashes against Milos Raonic and Rafael Nadal are likely to be on his agenda if he comes through the first couple of rounds and then he will turn his sights to Melbourne Park and an Australian Open title that he has come so close to winning over the last decade.
Five-time finalist Murray has come up short in his battles with Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic that have decided the first Grand Slam title of the tennis year and even though it is unrealistic to expect him to end his wait for Australian Open glory in 2019 given his current state of health, so much more is at stake as he returns to Melbourne.
Unseeded Murray will need a few strokes of fortune when the draw is made as he could face one of the game’s big-hitters in the opening round and when he gets on court, he needs to prove to himself that his tennis story still has chapters left to be written.
If this comeback fails, Murray will be out of options in his battle to defy an injury that looks increasingly likely to end his career.
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