The waiting is over. When Andy Murray steps on to the centre court at Queen’s Club on Tuesday, it will have been 342 days since he last picked up a racket in earnest. Whether he wins or loses is not important; what matters is that he is back.
Murray left his decision to play until the very last minute, waiting until his physios and advisors were completely sure that he and his hip had recovered well from Friday’s exertions (two practice sets with Cameron Norrie, only one of which he won).
With the tournament draw scheduled for 12 noon and Murray determined to make his mind one way or the other before that deadline, he had a busy morning yesterday. But the news from the medics was good and the former world No.1 was good to go.
“I’ve been practising the last couple of weeks and obviously building up each day,” Murray said. “I started playing sets about a week ago. So, I played probably seven or eight sets, and I wanted to feel how I felt the following day after playing a couple of sets with Cam Norrie yesterday. I got tested by my physios this morning to make sure I hadn’t stiffened up and lost any range of motion in my hip, which can happen when you’re tired and the hip’s a bit angry. That wasn’t the case. That was all positive and I pulled up pretty well from that, so then I decided to go for it.”
The process of rehab and recovery since last summer has been long and frustrating. At first, after his surgery at the start of the year, all seemed to be going well but then just as he felt that he was ready to take the next step forward, a 12-day training block in Nice at the Patrick Mouratoglou academy set him back. Suddenly he disappeared from social media and no one saw hide nor hair of him on the practice courts or gyms at the All England Club. Many feared the worst.
“I went over there to practice, trained 10-12 days and I didn’t feel that great at the end of the block,” he said. “I chatted to the team and decided to take time a little bit more, slow down. I didn’t reinjure my hip but I wasn’t responding as well as I had hoped, I wasn’t pulling up feeling great. You have to listen to your body, the doctors will tell you how to progress but sometimes it doesn’t go as well: that’s when you have to be smart, do the rehab before getting back on the court.
“It has been hard. After my back surgery, it took time but I came back quicker, I was back playing after four months but my back still didn’t feel perfect for a good nine months after I came back. It took me some time before I felt good again and it’s the same this time.”
With no expectations before his first match – he will play Nick Kyrgios, pictured, on Tuesday – Murray has no fear of failure. If he can play again, he will have won his biggest battle, and if he can keep playing for a few years, he will be happy. “I’m not pain-free and I don’t expect that, either,” Murray said. “I have had an issue with my hip for eight years. I never expected it to be perfect after the surgery but I just wanted to be able to get back to competing.
“In sport, ideally you play to win. But when you have been away from something that you love doing for a year, you kind of realise. I started playing tennis because I loved playing. I didn’t start playing tennis to win Wimbledon or to get to No 1 in the world. I never, never believed that that was something I was going to do. It was not something I thought about growing up. I played tennis because I loved it.
“I have continued doing that throughout my whole career. Pressure and stuff comes as you get older and start to do better. But when you step away from the sport for a long time, you look at things a little bit differently.
“Look, I would love to get back to the top of the game, absolutely. I train and do all of those things to give me the best chance to do that. But if not, that’s also OK. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t. I just want to be playing again.”
Meanwhile, former British No 2 Dan Evans came from behind to beat Marcel Granollers 6-4, 2-6, 3-6 and book his place in the final of the ATP Challenger Tour Nature Valley Open in Nottingham. The 28-year-old, who is continuing his return from a drugs ban and has a wild card entry for Queen’s, will play Australia’s Alex de Minaur in today’s final.
There will be a Briton in the women’s final at Nottingham today, too, after Johanna Konta beat Donna Vekic 6-2, 6-3 in the semi-finals. The world No 22 will face top-seed Ashleigh Barty after the Australian beat Naomi Osaka of Japan 6-3, 6-4.