Andy Murray is back, but will he still be the same player we love?
Amid all the joy of Andy Murray’s imminent return, are there also reasons for caution?
On Monday the tennis world was given the news it has been waiting for: Andy Murray is very close to a return from injury.
“I’ve been out getting close to a year now which is a lot longer than I think me or any of my team expected at the beginning.
“But I’m getting closer to playing again, I’ve started training a few days ago and hoping to make my comeback during the grass court season.”
Of course, we know this is just the start for Andy Murray. If anything, the real work begins now, because getting back on a tennis court after lengthy injury and getting back to playing your best tennis are very different things.
We’ve seen with Novak Djokovic lately how hard it can be for even the best players to regain their rhythm after injury, and with the Serbian’s French Open performance we’ve also seen that it can be done.
However, Murray faces far greater obstacles than most and it’s important, purely from an expectations point of view, to at least be aware of them.
The problem isn’t injury, but the specific type of injury he has had.
“It’s just an awful long way back,” former British number one Andrew Castle told BBC Radio 5 live at the turn of the year.
“People don’t generally, in sports like tennis, recover from this level of hip injury – assuming it’s either a labrum tear or full-on arthritis that requires a new hip.
“Andy Murray can probably be at 95% and beat 95% of the tour, but if a piece of your body like your hip, which is so central and important to your movement, needs major surgery, I don’t see any way back.”
Former world number two Tommy Haas is an interesting historical study, as he had the same surgery as Murray and never managed to regain his place in the top ten of the world.
Another problem facing Murray could be the timing of his comeback.
We all know what’s going on there: Murray loves Wimbledon and he loves the grass court game. Who can blame him?
Whether or not a surgically repaired hip can cope with the stop-start explosive nature of the grass-court game, though, is another matter entirely.
Perhaps if his first steps on the road to recovery were taken in clay court season, which is more ‘slide and glide’ than it’s more intense grass variant, his hip would be more battle-ready when it comes to Wimbledon, but as it is you can’t help but worry about him actually doing himself more damage in London.
But the real question isn’t so much whether Andy Murray can return, it is what he will be when he does. His game will surely have to change and adapt.
Murray is, after all, one of the finest defenders on a tennis court, perhaps that we have ever seen.
And there is a lot that goes into that which he just may not be able to rely upon after such major surgery.
The former world number one has built his success upon hanging back on the court, relying on his incredible speed, to force errors and counter-attack.
Will that speed still be there? Will he still be able to cover enough ground to position himself so far back? Will he still be quick enough to counter-attack like did before? With everything becoming just that little bit harder, will he still have the patience to wait for the unforced errors?
“Will Andy ever be the same?” asked Haas. “Will he ever move the same, with the foot speed that gives him the confidence at the top of the game? That remains to be seen.”
That does indeed appear to be the big question.
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