As he embarks on a singles comeback, Kevin Palmer tells us why “serial winner” Andy Murray has already scored a tremendous victory, regardless of what comes next.
How fitting that Richard Gasquet will be stood across the net from Andy Murray as he makes his singles comeback at the Cincinnati Masters next week, as this Frenchman has been present at so many of the Scot’s breakthrough moments.
While what has gone before counts for nothing counts for little as former world No.1 and two-time Wimbledon champion Murray will attempt to play pain free on a singles court for the first time in many a long year, the history shared between two of the most popular players on the ATP Tour confirms that this is a match-up to relish.
Murray’s heroic win over Gasquet at Wimbledon 2008 became a breakthrough moment for a Scot still battling to win over a home crowd who looked down on him with unwarranted suspicion, yet she of that was vanquished on a never-to-be-forgotten night on Centre Court.
Still only 21, a somewhat frail Murray appeared to be on his way out of The Championships as he lost the first two sets to Gasquet, before he mounted what was to become one of his trademark fightback by winning a thrilling third set-tie break that ended with him bellowing like a gladiator on the wall behind the umpire’s chair after an improbable winner.
He prevailed with a 6-4 final set win as the light faded at SW19, as Britain got a glimpse of the real Murray in a battling display that confirmed he had the heart and the talent to achieve so much more in the game than any other Brit of this or any other generation.
Those lame souls peddling the ‘Murray doesn’t like England’ myth were forced to accept the nation had a hero worthy of acclaim and his appearance in the US Open final later that year confirmed this kid was here to stay.
Murray came back from two sets behind to beat Gasquet once more at the French Open in 2010 and then confirmed his status as one of the game’s true forces on the red clay with a masterful four-set win in front of a silenced French crowd on Court Philippe Chatrier in 2016 as the Brit made his march to the final of the tournament for the first time.
Gasquet has not beaten Murray since a clay court meeting in Rome in 2012, but the truth is none of their past encounters will be relevant when the two combatants meet for the 12th time in what will be one of the most compelling storylines to emerge from the opening couple of days of the Cincinnati Masters.
It wasn’t just the tennis public who suspected we had seen the last of Murray as he tearfully limped out of the Australian Open in January, as the champions displaying his emotions in such a public fashion was also coming to terms with the premature end of his career.
Hip scraping surgery was designed to enhance his quality of life rather than propel a return to top of the game, but now a player ranked at a lowly No.325 is back and we wait to see whether this comeback is a fleeting farewell or something more.
Victory or defeat in this opening match is not the barometer by which we should judge Murray’s comeback against Gasquet, with his movement a far more significant indicator as to whether the 32-year-old can climb up the rankings and threaten the game’s giants once more.
By playing in Cincinnati, Murray is clearly eyeing up a return to the US Open later this month and while this serial winner will take to the court determined to make a victorious comeback, there mere fact that he is back at a Masters event and reliving his dream is a victory in itself.
Now we wait to see what happens next…
Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer
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