First came the emotion of at last playing a match again. Then the elation of his first win in almost a year. Now, the reality check: Andy Murray still has a long way to go as he comes back from hip surgery.
He was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Kyle Edmund in the second round of the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne yesterday.
The same Edmund who lapped up Murray’s words of wisdom as he first set out on his path to the world’s top 20 and who replaced his mentor as the British No 1 back in March.
It was only the second time Murray had lost to a British player on the professional tour – the last time was in 2006 in Bangkok, when a certain Timothy Henry Henman at last got some semblance of revenge for the then teenage Scot having thrashed him three times on the bounce.
But while Edmund, still looking a little bemused by his win, was saying all the usual things about his victory – he had to think about the match not the opponent, it felt a bit strange to beat Murray, he was happy to win – he must know, deep down, that the real test of his new position at the top of the domestic heap will come several months down the road. When Murray is fully established back on tour and when, as he and everyone around him hopes, his ailing hip is just a distant and unpleasant memory
If Edmund can beat the former world No 1 then, he will know that he really has replaced Murray at the top of the British tree.
“Today’s performance was okay,” Murray said. “It wasn’t anything special. I did some things okay, some things not so well. I was kind of reacting a lot on the court rather than being the one that was sort of dictating on my own serve. They are the sort of things that when you play against the best players, which obviously Kyle is one of them just now, over the course of the match, that tells a little bit.”
Against Stan Wawrinka on Monday, Murray had looked sprightly and nimble footed; against Edmund, he looked more sluggish. Then again, Edmund was playing a good deal better than the Swiss – and if he could get the ball on to his forehand side, he welted it and sent it speeding back like a ballistic missile.
A double fault was an inauspicious start to the match for Murray and, throughout the contest, his serve lacked its usual bite. But that is just a matter of getting more time on court, getting more matches under his belt. The nuts and bolts of Murray’s game were the same as ever, as Edmund was the first to admit.
“Andy’s always very tough to beat,” Edmund said. “You know that coming from a tennis player’s point of view that it doesn’t matter where he’s coming from physically. He’s so smart on court and very crafty that he will make you beat him, he’ll always put balls in play in awkward positions. Whatever he’s feeling, I don’t know, but that’s what I’d say, and he obviously just, yeah, is smart.”
That guile and court craft does not fade, no matter what Murray’s physical state. And the fighting will was as fierce as ever – his reaction to saving a couple of break points at the start of the second set showed he meant business and the way he broke Edmund as the Yorkshireman was serving for the match at 5-2 proved that he was ready to run until he dropped to stay in the match.
It was still not enough, though. Whether it will be enough to deal with the rigours of five-set matches at Wimbledon is also something he will ponder over the next couple of days. Still unsure of his plans for next week, he is hoping to make his decision before the Wimbledon draw on Friday morning.
“I have made decent improvements the last couple of weeks and obviously have been somewhat competitive in the matches that I have played,” Murray said. “But I don’t just want to go out there to just play. I want to be able to compete properly. And if I don’t feel like I can do that, then I won’t play. If I do and physically I feel ready, mentally I’m in the right place, then I’ll go for it.”
Edmund will be joined in the quarter-finals by Cameron Norrie, who overcame fellow Briton Jay Clarke 6-4, 6-4.
Johanna Konta was eliminated in Eastbourne, going down 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 to top seed Caroline Wozniacki in the third round of the women’s competition. Wozniacki, who had lost her previous two matches to Konta, will meet Ashleigh Barty of Australia in the quarter-finals.