With all signs pointing to the possibility of a return to tennis for Andy Murray, albeit in doubles rather than singles for now, it raises the question, can he ever be as good as he once was? Lynsey Thompson looks at five of the best tennis comebacks.
The video recently released of Murray training on a Queen’s Club practice court is certainly a welcome sight for tennis fans across the world who feared they may never see him play again.
But is a full recovery realistic, and can he find the mental and physical strength to get back to the form that saw him winning the US Open, two Wimbledon titles and two Olympic Gold medals?
Well the good news is it’s not unheard of in the world of sport. But what about tennis, arguably, the most physically demanding individual sport of all?
It was illness rather than injury that affected Venus in the late 2000’s and saw her form drop after winning her fifth Wimbledon title in 2008.
Eventually diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome in 2011, a viral illness which causes extreme fatigue and muscle pain, Venus went from the most fearsome female grass court player of her generation to being ranked 135 in the world.
Although still placing regularly in quarter-finals, and enjoying Olympic success and winning Doubles titles with her sister Serena, Venus couldn’t seem to reach the single heights that she previously had.
It was almost a decade later that Venus returned to the topflight of grand slams, reaching both the Australian Open final and Wimbledon final in 2017.
In doing so she set the record for the longest span between grand slam single final appearances (20 years) and made her way back into the top ten rankings.
The early to mid 1990’s saw Agassi hit the peak of men’s single tennis success, winning Wimbledon, the US Open, the Australian Open, the Davis Cup, reaching World number one ranking in April 1995, and winning a gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1996.
But, within just a year, Agassi’s career took a spectacular dive which shocked the tennis world.
In 1997 he was blighted by a wrist injury and was dealing with a failed high-profile marriage to Brooke Shields.
Later he admitted that he started using crystal methamphetamine, subsequently failed an ATP drug test, and by November his ranking had sank to 141. Many believed this was the last they would see of the once great Champion.
But never one to surrender, Agassi staged a comeback, returning to top physical and mental shape and recorded the most successful period of his tennis career.
In 1998, he won five titles and leapt from the world number 110 to number six – the highest jump into the top 10 made by any player during a calendar year.
In 1999, he won the French Open, becoming only the fifth player at that time, to win all four Grand Slams and recaptured the world number one spot by the end of the year.
He went on to win a further four Grand Slams and held the number one ranking on and off until 2003.
Enjoying her most successful year in 2011, Kvitova won her first grand slam at Wimbledon, before backing it up to win the WTA Tour Championships on debut and lead to the Czech Republic to a Fed Cup Victory.
Reaching a ranking of World number two, she then went on to win Wimbledon again in 2014 and a year later reached the quarter finals in all four grand slams in a single season.
However, 2016/17 saw a horrendous run of bad luck for Kvitova, starting with a diagnosis of mononucleosis (glandular fever).
Gastrointestinal illness followed, and the rotten run of fortune culminated in a robbery in her home by a knife-wielding attacker which resulted in tendon and nerve injuries to her racket hand.
Following a five month break to recover, Kvitova returned to the game and in 2018 has won five WTA titles since as well as returning to the top five in the rankings for the first time in three years.
Juan Martín del Potro
When del Potro won his first grand slam, the US Open in 2009, he became the only man to beat both Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal during the same major and climbed to become the youngest player in world top ten.
However just one year later, due to a persistent wrist injury that stripped him of his greatest weapon – his big booming forehand – he was forced to take a nine month break from tennis following surgery.
Although he returned to the game in 2011, it took until 2013 to get back in the top five in the rankings, and just as he seemed to be gaining momentum, he was hit once again with another career-threatening wrist injury.
Undergoing surgery in 2014 and again in 2015, del Potro took almost a two-year break from the sport with many believing he wouldn’t return.
But his determination to never give up served him well, and in 2016 he defeated both Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal to secure him an Olympic Silver medal, even though he was ranked a lowly 145 in the World, as well as playing a big part in winning Argentina’s first ever Davis Cup Title.
Through completely adapting his game to cope with the weakness of his wrists, del Potro continued his come-back and went on to reach the US Open final in 2018, attaining a new career-high ranking of world number three in the same year.
In 1990, Seles became the youngest ever French Open champion at the age of 16.
She went on to win eight Grand Slam singles titles before her 20th birthday and was the year-end world number one in both 1991 and 1992.
However, the tennis world was shocked to its core in 1993 when Seles was attacked by a man with a knife on courtside during a live match. It later emerged it was a fan of her rival Steffi Graf who wanted to sabotage Seles’ success.
The attack happened on the world stage, in front of the world’s cameras, and was not only a career-threatening injury but a serious risk to her life.
It took more than two years of extensive physical and mental rehabilitation to return to the women’s tour.
She won her first comeback tournament at the Canadian Open and a month later reached the US Open final.
In January 1996, she staged the greatest comeback by winning the Australian Open, just under three years after the brutal on-court attack.
She later went on to reach finals in both the US Open and French Open as well as enjoying Olympic and Fed Cup success.
So, with the tennis world watching Andy Murray’s progress with bated breath, there is still hope that a return to glory is a possibility.
And from what we know of his mental strength, we know if there is a chance, he’ll take it.
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