Murray has not played a competitive match since last July and, following hip surgery in January, he has only recently been able to get back on the practice court. With so little time to prepare, he was forced to abandon his plans to enter next week’s tournament in ’s-Hertogenbosch and his participation in the Fever-Tree Championships at Queen’s Club is still in doubt. Should he be fit to play at Wimbledon, he would be taking on the rigours of a grand slam event from a standing start. And doing that with any degree of success is all but impossible.
“Some guy by the name of Federer did that [at the Australian Open in 2017], he seemed to do OK,” McEnroe, pictured, said. “But you see the other guys, it’s not so simple when they try to come back after missing six months or a year. It’s just a different animal.
“Andy’s going to play because he loves to play but I’m sure he would be realistic about what he could do if he did play. It would be tough to go a long way if he hasn’t played.
“We don’t have to dig too deep to look at some guys that are having trouble getting back. Everyone’s different, you go from the extreme of Roger being able to pull it off to Stan [Wawrinka] who has barely played. Novak [Djokovic] doesn’t seem like himself yet and that’s been the better part of almost a couple of years now.”
McEnroe speaks from experience. He took two seven-month breaks in his career, one at the start of 1986 when he was 27 and another after the US Open in 1987. With the exception of reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals in his last appearance in singles there in 1992, he was never a serious threat at the grand slams again – he kept trying but his glory days were over.
“I carried on for about seven years,” he said. “That’s a long time. So you keep giving yourself reasons as to why it’s worth it, the upside. It’s worth taking semi-humiliation. You’re still out there doing something you love in a way. You’re not as good as you were.
“I don’t know what will happen, but it will be pretty tough for Andy to come back and be better than he was, unless I’m missing something when you have hip surgery. Maybe they can cure it completely, but that’s a pretty tough injury to overcome. Let’s just say it’s difficult. When I first took my time off I remember that I didn’t take the time off so that I would be worse when I came back. My plan was to be better.”
Murray, who has said that he will only return when he is 100 per cent fit and healthy, will face the obvious problems as he makes his way back – how far can he trust his hip? How fit is he? – but McEnroe also believes that the Scot will have to adapt his game if he is to be successful. Aggression is the way forward according to the American. “That’s something that helped him win in the first place,” he said. “It would seem to be a no brainer. But whether or not he had a hip problem, he should have done that anyway. When he got more aggressive off the return, forehand and going after more backhands, he became more difficult to deal with. That’s no doubt, so I don’t think there’s any question.
“There is no way to know [whether you are ready]. You play practice – and we all know how different practice is to a match where you step on the centre court at Wimbledon. It’s too bad. It’s a year, that’s a long time.
“When you have a hip problem you have a tendency to be more cautious. I had some hip issues, I felt like I lost some speed. It’s not a good feeling, particularly when guys are hitting it harder than ever. If you are not feeling quite right it can be tough, it’s too bad.”
At least McEnroe has faith that Murray’s competitive fires will be burning as bright as ever even if his game may initially struggle to keep pace with his ambitions. It is just a matter of how long he can keep those fires stoked if the results go against him at the start of his comeback.
“At this stage, there’s a lot of upside for him,” McEnroe said. “The comparisons with the three other guys, for example, these three other guys that he’s had to battle for so long [Federer, Nadal and Djokovic]. And seeing their resurgence: Rafa looks like Rafa and Roger’s had this amazing run.
“It’s worse, for me personally, to not even be able to play and not participate than to lose and you drop to ten in the world. But it’s tough. You sink to a certain level where you can’t take it any more.”