Leon Smith: Andy Murray knows not to hurry return from injury
Smith believes Murray’s experience of fighting his way back to the top following serious back surgery in 2013 will be crucial as Scotland’s foremost sporting figure seeks to recover from the hip problem that ended his season following Wimbledon.
It was announced yesterday that Murray, 30, had become a father for the second time, the news coming hours after he had returned to the tennis court for the first time in four months to play Roger Federer at his charity event – Andy Murray Live at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro.
Assessments of Murray’s mobility in the exhibition match have varied, after the three-times grand slam winner limped and walked with an awkward gait on occasion. BBC tennis commentator Andrew Castle, who had a hip replacement four years ago, presented a bleak picture, stating that it looked as if Murray may struggle to rediscover his best form due to his condition.
Murray gave a very different impression by maintaining that his hip felt much better than it had at Wimbledon, and when he attempted to get himself fit in time for the US Open in August.
Smith believes that even trying to make that US Open might have set Murray back.
Memories of that for his fellow Scot, with whom Smith enjoys a close relationship – pivotal in Great Britain claiming the Davis Cup in 2015 to end a 79-year wait – will prevent another false restart.
Smith said: “The important thing is for him to take his time.”
Murray has said his target is January’s Australian Open and Smith added: “Andy has said that he will come back when he is 100 per cent fit. He tried to come back too quickly for the US Open. He probably regrets that. It probably made him realise you are better to wait. He is really good at taking things step by step.
“He has done it before when he had back surgery. That was a significant injury. He went through it so methodically and got back playing better than before. There is no reason he can’t do the same again.”
Age and his infirmity in recent months might be considered to count against Murray, were it not for the fact that all four grand slams in 2017 were won by players older than the man from Dunblane, and a duo who have conquered injury concerns.
The 36-year-old Roger Federer and 31-year-old Rafael Nadal won two slams apiece a year after their bodies seemed to have given up on them. Leaving Novak Djokovic and Murray behind as the “big four” became the big two.
The same doubts that haunted Federer and Nadal are now being expressed of Djokovic and Murray as they hope to return from lengthy lay-offs in Australia. Smith doesn’t expect that Federer and Nadal – Nos 1 and 2 in the rankings with Murray and Djokovic having slipped from those positions a year ago to Nos 16 and 12 respectively – can be toppled in the short-term.
“For the men’s tour, it’s quite amazing,” said Smith. “We’ve had no Andy, Novak or Stan Wawrinka. The year before there was no Roger or Rafa. [Kei] Nishikori and [Milos] Raonic were out, too.
“Now we’ve got a resurgence coming back to Australia and everyone is saying: ‘It will be amazing seeing them all back competing because we missed it’.
“The younger players have been used to being in the latter stages of tournaments because of the absence of the big players. It is set to be a bumper 2018. [But] if you have been healthy and playing well like Roger and Rafa then of course you will be favourites. They are where they need to be in terms of matches played. Roger came back to win but that was not normal.”