“Andy Murray feels normal” may not be the most earth-shattering headline the tennis tour has ever seen but it is the best news the world No 6 has had in a long time.
For the first time since his back operation last September, Murray is feeling like his old self. His back is getting better with every day that passes and, at last, he is feeling fit and strong again.
Last week, he reached the semi-finals in Acapulco and, even if Grigor Dimitrov did beat him in three sets, the Scot was finally able to do as he pleased on the court without any ill effects. That his recovery has come so far is pleasing. That the timing of this major step forward coincides with the beginning of a huge month in the calendar – the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells followed by the Sony Open in Miami – is positively exciting. Now, after five long months of rehab and two months into his comeback, he feels ready to compete with the best and challenge for the biggest titles.
“I felt the best I have felt this year in Acapulco,” Murray said. “I played quite a few long matches there, finished late and came back the next day feeling good. I lasted the matches fairly well in tough conditions and I wasn’t waking up stiff and sore like I had been after the other events I’d played. My back feels the best it has since the surgery so that’s exciting. I’m not that far away from where I want to get to. The last couple of weeks I’ve really started to feel normal. I feel back to normal.
“I’m starting to move well again and feel comfortable in my movement. It’s one thing getting to the ball but, once you get there, you need to be able to do something with the ball. I felt in Acapulco like I was starting to get to balls and actually was doing stuff with them, getting myself out of difficult situations in points. Those sort of intangibles are coming back. When I was playing at my best, I’d be getting those balls back and making it harder for my opponent whereas, in the first few tournaments this year, I was missing shots when I was on the stretch. I’m starting to get there.”
Murray begins his challenge in the Californian desert today against Lukas Rosol, the world No 47 from the Czech Republic. The two have never played before but the 6ft 5ins Czech will be no pushover – no one in Murray’s path is. The draw is top heavy, with Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka and Roger Federer standing shoulder to shoulder with the Scot in an attempt to get to the final. No matter, Murray is looking at the bigger picture and, if he can get the matches under his belt, the old consistency will return in time. His ranking does not matter for the moment. It is where he is placed when the season draws to a close that counts.
“Obviously, things can come up and you can have niggles and stuff but my body feels good now,” Murray said. “It feels right again and that’s the most exciting thing. Then it’s down to how I perform on the court and how many matches I win throughout the course of the year because we are only two months in.
“Upsets can happen but, over the course of 12 months, you tend to see who the best players are and I hope at the end of this year I’ll be back where I want to be. For me the challenge this year – obviously coming back from the surgery was tough – is trying to maintain the level of consistency throughout the year, which I’d had in the slams in the last few years but not necessarily in the other tournaments – that’s what I’m trying to achieve this year.”
In the meantime, Murray is still mulling over the news that his best friend, Ross Hutchins, will be running the show at Queen’s Club this summer after being appointed as tournament director of the Aegon Championships. And, by the sound of it, Murray thinks his pal has taken on a massive task.
“Ross is still playing as well so he needs to make sure that he’s able to balance both jobs well, which will be a challenge because he hasn’t done that before,” Murray said. “He’ll have to learn fast.
“I just know that some of the decisions Chris [Kermode, the former tournament director] had to make – they aren’t always popular decisions. Like last year with all the rain, the Hewitt and Cilic match starting on the centre court and getting moved on to Court One. It’s a very hard decision to make and you’ve got some strong personalities in the dressing room as well. It’s not easy and probably the hardest part, I’d have thought, is keeping players happy when there’s scheduling issues and bad weather and bad conditions.”
And, presumably, Murray will be hoping his best mate will want to keep him happiest of all because, by then, Murray ought to be feeling more normal than ever as the defending Queen’s and Wimbledon champion.