When Andy Murray held the European Open trophy aloft on Sunday October 20th, it was an event that no-one would ever had predicted, not even Murray himself.
Only nine months earlier he had undergone the much-publicised hip surgery, with the aim of curing him of the severe pain that had blighted not just his tennis, but his whole life. At the time of the surgery, Murray admitted that he even found it difficult to put on his socks in the morning, let alone endure a five-set match.
It was just such a match that saw him lose in the first round of the 2019 Australian Open against the 22 seed Roberto Bautista Agut – a four-hour marathon that many felt may have been the last time they’d see Murray competing in a Grand Slam tournament, let alone going on to win one.
There followed a painful, and at times, tearful press conference in which Murray told the world’s media that he was considering surgery on his hip in the hope, at the very least, of becoming pain free. On January 29th, sooner than anyone expected, he announced that he’d undergone the surgery and early signs were that it was a success.
As was well-publicised at the time, he had been encouraged to have a procedure called the Birmingham Hip Operation by Bob Bryan, the fellow pro who had also successfully prolonged his career in the face of a serious hip condition. The procedure involves re-lining the hip joint with metal to replace damaged bone and cartilage and, although it’s a major operation, when Bryan underwent it, he was back playing doubles in the US Open within five months.
It was exactly the same length of time that it took Murray to re-enter the professional game when he competed in the men’s doubles at Queen’s with partner Feliciano Lopez. The fact that Murray has always had a very high level of fitness undoubtedly accelerated his convalescence. Similarly, his grit and dedication to hard work also contributed to his being match ready in such a short space of time.
While his expectations were limited, he simply wanted to test out how the re-aligned hip would respond in the heat of first class play and he and Lopez exceeded all expectations by going on to win the title.
Wimbledon without Murray is an almost inconceivable idea for most fans, so the news that he would be competing in both the men’s and mixed doubles was greeted with great enthusiasm by fans. The fact that he’s be partnering Serena Williams in the latter made it an even more appealing prospect. Admittedly, what most people wanted would be to see a gladiatorial singles battle against Nadal, Federer or Djokovic but this was not going to be an option, in 2019 at least. Unfortunately, nor was it going to be Murray’s year in the doubles. In the men’s event he and Patrick-Hugues Herbert lost in the second round and in the mixed he and Williams made it through to the third round before being defeated by the top seeds Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar.
After Wimbledon he continued to compete in doubles competitions with a number of partners including brother Jamie. But it was when he announced that he would be returning to singles tennis in the Cincinnati that the tennis world began to suspect that he really was on the comeback trail. It’s possible that this was a little premature as he lost to Richard Gasquet in the first round in straight sets and it was only when he dropped down to a Challenger level event, the Rafa Nadal Open Banc Sabadell tournament, that he recorded his first singles victory since his comeback. In it, he defeated the 17-year-old Imran Sibille in straight sets, and in 43 minutes.
There followed a series of matches in China, the highlights of which were defeating the world number 13, Matteo Berrettini, in the China Open and the world number 12, Fabio Fognini, in the Shanghai Open. Then came his first singles title win since February 2017 in his Antwerp win over Wawrinka.
After the final, a tearful Murray told the world how much the victory had meant to him, and his own surprise at being able to overcome the Swiss player. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Murray’s latest success has resulted in increased popularity in the sportsbook betting markets.
Although he’s keeping his plans very much to himself at the moment, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that we may well see him at the Australian Open in January. After all, no-one would like to make a triumphant return to Melbourne more than he would. And to go on to win the tournament would be a dream come true. Looking further ahead, the French Open could give him the opportunity to progress beyond the semi-finals for the first time ever to show that he can be just as good on clay as he is on grass.
But the big one is Wimbledon and if he continues on his current trajectory there’s no reason to doubt that he’ll be delighting the spectators on the Centre Court once again in 2020
On a personal level, the family man Murray is also in a good place with the birth of his third child with Kim Sears expected soon after the Antwerp victory. And it’s the love and support of his family that he has also credited with helping him to get through what has been a very difficult time for him.
So, the future is certainly looking bright for Murray. And, at the age of 32, he potentially has several more seasons ahead of him, not to mention the prospect of many more titles.
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