ANDY Murray will return to the top four in world tennis once he completes his return to fitness following back surgery, according to John McEnroe.
And the American also believes that, those fitness issues permitting, Murray can look forward to defending his Wimbledon title this summer under significantly less pressure than he had to bear in previous years.
Murray is ranked eighth in the world at present after a spell out recuperating from his operation to address persistent back problems. Besides Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, the other members of the sport’s leading quartet, he is also behind Stanislas Wawrinka, David Ferrer, Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin del Potro.
With competition at the top of the men’s game becoming ever tougher, the Scot, whose highest ranking to date was No 2 last summer, faces a fight to rejoin his three main rivals. But McEnroe is sure that Murray, who turns 27 in a fortnight, still has more than enough time to get back far closer to the top. “I think that he certainly belongs in the top four,” the three-time Wimbledon champion said. “I’m looking at Roger play and I’m amazed at how well he’s moving – obviously we know how well he can play, but he seems to be moving better than he has the last three, four, five years.
“Andy’s quite a bit younger, so there’s no reason to believe that if he gets back to peak form he couldn’t get back there. No. Absolutely.
“I don’t want to wish something bad on other guys, but in terms of the other guys ahead of him, overall he’s got more to his game. And to me he should be at worst No 4 in the world.”
Murray’s victory at Wimbledon last summer was his second major title following his US Open win in late 2012, and ended a 77-year wait for a British men’s singles champion at the home of the All England Club. That in itself should lessen the anxiety levels when the Scot returns to defend his title next month, and McEnroe also believes that Murray will be more relaxed there, knowing he has what it takes to win the grasscourt title.
“There’s always going to be pressure on him to win, but it will be significantly less because he has won and he has broken the jinx. He has been able to lift the trophy.
“He has two majors under his belt and he won the Olympics, so to me I would be shocked if there is the same amount of pressure. That doesn’t mean people don’t hope he does well, and I’m sure he’ll want to do that himself, but it’s nowhere near the same pressure it was all those other years until he won last year.
“I would simply have him reflect on his success the last couple of years,” McEnroe continued when asked what one piece of advice he would offer Murray at present. “This is assuming he’s healthy – if he’s not healthy he’s going to be down on himself as much as anyone else.
“But if he’s healthy, keep in mind what he’s accomplished. I don’t think he needs to ramp up the pressure. No-one can ever take away the Wimbledon and the Open and the Olympic win that he had. These are opportunities that have come about. That’s what I would tell him. If you look at what happened in Australia, no-one expected Wawrinka to win it. So things are unpredictable – who would have thought Nadal would not have won either of the first couple of claycourt events?
“I’m guessing if his back was bothering him for the past couple of years he didn’t expect to come all the way back in three months. He probably assumed that he would be peaking for the French or at the latest Wimbledon.
“He’s just got to go with his instincts, because it was his instincts that took him to where he was able to win. And I’m guessing his instincts were to make sure he was most ready to play at Wimbledon.”
While Murray is putting the finishing touches to his Wimbledon preparations next month, McEnroe will be back in Edinburgh, to take part in the second year of the Brodies Champions of Tennis tournament, a leg of the official ATP Champions Tour.
The bad weather that interrupted play on one day of the event last year was the abiding memory for some, but McEnroe suggested all would be well this time round provided the tournament organisers are able to implement the planned improvements.
“The field we had was great,” he said. “The energy from the crowd was great. The weather could have been better.
“Hopefully some of the issues we had with the court will be taken care of. Any time you have an outdoor event you need a bit of luck, but hopefully we’ll do better this time round as the field is great.”
That field for the 19-22 June tournament includes another Wimbledon champion, 2001 winner Goran Ivanisevic, as well as the man he beat in the semi-final that year, Tim Henman. The other competitors are Fabrice Santoro and his fellow Frenchman Henri Leconte, Wayne Ferreira, Mansour Bahrami, Mark Philippoussis and defending champion Thomas Enqvist.
l Tickets for Brodies Champions of Tennis are now on sale at www.championsoftennis.com