Andy Murray and Wimbledon: Recent form allows us to carve up draw and dream a bit

You no longer have to wait. Wimbledon is upon us. Two weeks of Sue Barker, Andrew Castle, strawberries and cream and, hopefully, Andy Murray.

The 35-year-old Scot, two times a winner of the prestigious Championships, is in the draw and, for the first time in a long while, in good form and in good nick.

We were able to ride part of the Murray rollercoaster at last year’s tournament, when he battled past Nikoloz Basilashvili and Oscar Otte before losing to eventual semi-finalist Denis Shapovalov rather meekly in the third round. It was the first time we had seen him back on a singles court at SW19 since his hip resurfacing injury and it stirred the soul, rekindling memories of summers past when Murray used to have the British public on the edge of its seats.

The 2022 version of Murray is an improvement on 2021, of that there is little doubt. This has been a pretty good year for the former world No 1. He’s made two ATP finals, losing the Sydney International to Aslan Karatsev at the start of the year and then reaching the showpiece match at the Boss Open in Stuttgart, losing narrowly to last year’s Wimbledon runner-up Matteo Berrettini.

Andy Murray hits a shot during practice at SW19. His campaign begins against James Duckworth on Monday.

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That match was on grass, clearly one of Murray’s best surfaces. He defeated Stefanos Tsitsipas and Nick Kyrgios in Stuttgart, not dropping a set until the Italian got his hands on him. The only concern that came out of his week in Germany was an abdominal strain he picked up. It forced him to miss Queen’s, but perhaps that is a blessing, having more time to prepare for Wimbledon. Murray says he feels fit and ready to go, and those who have watched him practice in the past couple of days report him playing at full pelt.

Let’s not beat about the bush, we won’t get many more chances to follow Murray at Wimbledon. That’s why this fortnight feels special, because for the first time in at least five years, Murray appears in a really good place, ready to make a proper assault on a Slam.

It's gone well," said Murray of his preparations to Wimbledon. "I've been able to gradually progress my training in the past week and got to play a few sets, a lot of points. The last few days have been good.

"I think I showed a couple weeks ago that there was still good tennis left in me. I beat a guy in the top five in the world, was neck and neck with Berrettini, who is one of the best grass-court players in the world, before the injury.

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Defending champion Novak Djokovic opens play on Centre Court.

"I played well against Kyrgios as well. The first set was a good level. And I've been doing pretty well in practices. I know the tennis is in there, I just need to bring it out during the event now.”

Murray begins his Wimbledon campaign this evening. He is third on Centre Court, after defending men’s champion Novak Djokovic and the British women’s No 1 Emma Raducanu. He is up against James Duckworth, the world No 77 from Australia. Proceedings should begin around tea time.

Given Murray, WR51, is unseeded, Duckworth looks – on paper – a pretty decent draw. The Scot has a 2-0 record in the head-to-head but, tellingly, both matches have come since serious injury struck Murray. He overcame the 30-year-old at the US Open in 2018 in four sets and then overcame him in Brisbane six months later. The Australian is a battler and has a strong first serve, but he lacks the same tennis IQ and ability as Murray. Dogged by elbow and foot injuries in his career, it’s not been plain sailing for Duckworth either. Murray is a warm favourite with the oddsmen to beat him.

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Do so, and we can start to look ahead. Murray’s draw is reasonably kind. He is in the same half as Djokovic. The last eight is where he would meet the Serb. Before that, he is likely to play the big-serving John Isner in the second round, a far from easy assignment, although Murray does do well against the sort of tennis the American brings to the table. A third-round tie against Stan Wawrinka or tenth seed Jannik Sinner is on the cards, and if we dare dream about the second week, then Spanish wonderkid Carlos Alcaraz potentially lies in wait in the last 16. Alcaraz will win many slams, but the 19-year-old is inexperienced on grass and admits himself that he is not in right place to win Wimbledon.

Last year's finalist, Matteo Berrettini, arrives at Wimbledon as the form player on grass.

There is an element of presumptuousness when carving up a draw like this, but Murray’s form gives genuine hope. If his body can hold up, he has displayed enough times this year that the game is still there to challenge the very best on a surface he is very, very adept on.

Djokovic goes into the tournament as favourite despite not having played nearly as many matches as would normally do, due primarily to his Covid vaccination status. He has won Wimbledon six times, though, and the top seed will offer the sternest defence of his crown. He plays against Korean Kwon Soonwoo at 1pm.

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Daniil Medvedev and other Russians’ absence due to the war in Ukraine means Spain’s Rafael Nadal, who has won the Australian and French Opens already this year, is the second seed. He’s been a bit under the radar in the build-up, hoping that nerve treatment to his damaged foot will allow him to be competitive. He plays tomorrow against Argentina’s Francisco Cerundolo.

Last year’s finalist Berrettini is the form player, having won Stuttgart and Queen’s in preparation for SW19. The likeable Italian has recovered well from hand surgery earlier this year and is a major threat. He faces Chile’s Christian Garin, also tomorrow.

The eyes of a nation will be on one man, though, starting tonight. Let Murray Mania begin again.