It may not take long before Andy Murray gets sick of this. Every time he steps off the court, he is faced with a barrage of questions about his hip, his health, his fitness and his chances of getting back to the top.
Eight matches into his comeback, and safely through to the second round of the US Open, the latest progress report is promising. Not brilliant, but still promising. Murray thinks he is hitting the ball better now than he was only a couple of weeks ago in Cincinnati, his hip feels better than it did a couple of months ago and despite missing nearly a year of competition on tour, he is pleased he is thinking tactically in the heat of battle. That is a very positive sign.
On Monday he took his time to get the better of James Duckworth, needing four sets to win, but he played himself into the match and, by the end, he was the man dictating the play. That, too, was a good sign.
What he will have to get used to, though, is the new regime. For a lifetime, he has pushed his body to the very limit to ensure that he is one of the fittest men on the circuit. Now, at the age of 31, his body has rebelled and in order to protect his fragile hip and prolong his career, he must change his training schedules and ramp up his rehab work. And the biggest change is using his rest days at the grand slams for just that: rest and recovery. “Sometimes on the off-days at slams I would hit for, like, an hour and a half,” Murray explained. “In my opinion, it’s too much. It’s something that I certainly won’t be doing in future. I will be keeping my practice on the off-days much lighter and conserve as much energy as I can for the matches.
“Obviously you can make improvements, but I feel like that happens from the matches that you play and growing confidence from winning matches and getting used to the conditions rather than it being something that you can make a kind of drastic change to during the event on the practice court.
“Obviously if there is something in the match that is really not working well, you know you can spend a few more minutes on that. But I’m not going to be having the sort of intense, long practices during a grand slam ever again.”
What does take time and is intense is the recovery work he has to do to keep his hip in working order. It is a protracted process during tournaments but, away from them, Murray’s rehab work is the focus of his day.
“At tournaments, it’s a little bit different,” he said. “I mean, it would be less. Depends if you count, like, ice baths and stretching with physios and time on a massage bed.
“But like last week when I was rehabbing after Cincinnati, it was two and a half hours in the morning, and then an hour and a half in the pool in the afternoon, and then on top of that, treatment, which can be anywhere from two to three hours. It’s pretty intense.”
But if it can get him ready to beat Fernando Verdasco today, the tedious work will have been worth it. The Spaniard is ranked No 32 in the world, is 34 years old and comes armed with a fearsome forehand and ferocious firepower.
But in 14 previous meetings, he has beaten the Scot only once and that was in 2009. Coming into today’s match, Verdasco is not buying into any theories about this being his best chance to notch up another win. “I just prefer to see on the court how the things happen rather than think about how it’s going to be because you never know,” Verdasco, pictured, said. “Of course, the level that he had before the surgery and all these problems, it was amazing. And obviously it’s a very hard recovery. I saw that he was taking his time to come back and how he was doing everything during this summer and the last couple of months – we’ll see Wednesday how he’s playing, how I’m playing.”
As for Murray, he knows what to expect and whatever happens, he is just pleased to be back at the US Open, playing as well as he can and competing against the best players in the world.
“Fernando is a great shot-maker and someone that when he’s on his game, is really tough to beat,” Murray said. “You can’t allow him to dictate too much. But it’s great being back playing.”