Comment: Smart decision by Britain’s Andy Murray as long-term strategy takes shape

Andy Murray fist pump

After Andy Murray announced on Monday that he would be returning in the doubles at Queen’s alongside 2017 singles champion Feliciano Lopez, James Spencer is on hand to analyse the three-time Grand Slam champion’s thinking.

Back in January, I wrote two articles on how Britain’s Andy Murray should go ahead with the “miracle” hip resurfacing operation and use the doubles circuit as a way back into tennis. And this has indeed proved to be the case so far.

In a Marvel Studios type of fashion, Murray has teased clips on his Instagram of him stepping up his comeback. The early signs are promising. And not only that, the former British No 1 seems cheerful and in good spirits. He has also declared himself “pain free”.

This is amazing news not just for Andy Murray fans, but also for the sport in general. The 32-year-old has done so much for promoting the sport in the UK and also abroad. He’s even promoted women’s tennis and equality. He’s one of the greatest sportsmen we have ever had. Hearing him talk so passionately about making his comeback to tennis is welcome news.

He seems to have missed the element of competing and no doubt the French Open has surely whetted his appetite to return to the sport he cherishes.

Still a world beater

Murray has been on the circuit for more than a decade. He knows the tournaments well, he knows the ins and outs of training, recovery, but not only is he intimate with all these details he also has both the physique and winning mentality that goes with it.

In the past two years, although he’s only competed in two Grand Slams and missed six, he’s still managed while injured to beat the likes of David Goffin at Shenzhen, and Kyle Edmund and Stan Wawrinka last year at Eastbourne. While also competing admirably against Nick Krygios at Queen’s in 2018 where he won the first set 6-2, earlier this year he battled back on one leg to take Roberto Bautista Agut to five sets at the Australian Open.

This indicates that Murray can still beat the world’s best players. Just imagine what he can do when fully fit!

If he can gradually build up his fitness slowly with a good pace, no expectations this year from himself or the press, he can do it. There’s no doubt about that. If anyone can do it, it’s him.

Murray built himself into a fitness fanatic and a machine who could last five sets and last the distance. He is one of few players that can consistently achieve such physical demands of endurance. The others are most notably Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic.

The former world No 1 has that winning mentality having won so much in the game. That’s something that very few players outside the top four have. Only the additions of Stan Wawrinka and Juan Martin del Potro have that champion belief and winning mentality that they can beat anyone. Such steel hardcore confidence is so hard to find in professional sport. We have even seen moments when Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic aren’t at their most confident selves and even vulnerable in some Slams.

However, Murray was always incredibly consistent and level-headed at Grand Slams. Of course, everyone has their dip in form but Murray was an exceptional player and seldom had a bad tournament when fully fit.

And all these ingredients to the cauldron and you have someone who is potentially one of the best tennis players in the world. Watching him play is a pleasure and hopefully his comeback is a success.

Trying new things

Obviously, we know that no singles player has returned having had this specific kind of surgery. But if Murray can build his fitness and build the muscle slowly around his hip then he will increase his options from doubles to best of three sets to maybe eventually returning to a best of five in the Grand Slams.

It’s very similar in a way to what Federer has done with his knee as he’s built up the muscles and the core strength over several seasons so his knee would be strong enough for clay and comfortable enough to allow him to play on the surface again.

Murray may even need to change parts of his game. He may have to keep the points shorter like Federer has done. So, he’s not charging around like a gazelle for long points. The main feature of his game and movement he should address is his swivel when he rotates 360 degrees sometimes when returning a serve or a shot. Like Federer with a selection of new movements and shots, and Nadal’s newly reworked serve to help his body and his longevity.

Only he and his fitness trainer will know his body but the less strain he puts on it the better chance he has of winning and also competing in a sensible amount of tournaments in a calendar. Again, similar to how Federer meticulously manages his schedule.

Grass court season and hard-court summer

Looking forward it’s probably best to play it by ear and see how his hip feels. The best-case scenario would be if Murray can potentially play doubles at Wimbledon and then ease himself into the singles in American hard-court summer. Then maybe give himself a shot at the US Open.

For the time being however, grass is his strongest surface and he’s one of the best grass-court players in the world so the timing for a comeback could not have fitted in any better.

Another thing that Federer does well is he neutralises the public and press pressures and expectations so well. Going deep in a major tournament for the Swiss, such as the French Open after a long absence, is seen as a bonus.

Hopefully, Murray can slowly build up his fitness and temper expectations accordingly in the weeks to come.

Follow James Spencer on Twitter @JamesTennis17

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