Andy Murray could be back in time for Wimbledon if he decides to have surgery to rebuild his damaged right hip.
It did not seem possible, particularly after the emotional and depressing press conference the Scot gave before the start of the Australian Open, but Bob Bryan, the former world No 1 doubles player, is living proof that it can be done.
Bryan had the same operation that Murray is considering – a hip resurfacing procedure – back in August and just four months later, he was back on court playing practice sets. Now, five months after his operation, he is back on tour and will be back in harness with his twin brother Mike, chasing his 17th grand slam doubles title in the coming days. Following that time frame, Murray could be ready for Wimbledon if he has surgery in the next couple of weeks.
After an 18-year career, the 40-year-old American was in the same physical state as Murray: his hip joint was grinding bone on bone with no cartilage left. He was in agony and at the Madrid tournament last spring, he finally ground to a halt. Like Murray, he had tried a range of therapies and rehab programmes but nothing did any good. That is when he went to see Dr Edwin Su at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, the leading orthopaedic hospital in the United States.
The procedure to put a steel cap inside the socket of the joint and a new, metal ball on the top of the femur, took around 90 minutes. And the results were practically instant.
“It’s called a hip resurfacing with an artificial implant,” Bryan said. “This is a little more a sports, high-performance, smaller metal implant.
“I was on crutches a couple days later. I was at the US Open three weeks after surgery with a cane. At the end of September, I had the surgery August 2nd, I was just hitting some light balls.
“We started our training, December 5th is when we started hitting some balls pretty hard, playing some sets.”
So far everything is going well: Bryan is pain-free and he is playing again. Better still, he is only five months into his recovery and the doctors advise that it can seven or eight months before the healing process is complete. His hip could get even better yet.
Murray, being Murray, has picked Bryan’s brains about every aspect of the surgery, the recovery and the exact nature of Bryan’s injury. He has been hoovering up information for months as he tries to find a solution for his problems and, possibly, find a way to prolong his career. Dr Su has worked with other athletes from other sports but Bryan is the first tennis player to have had the operation and been able to return to competition. And no singles player has ever come back from such a surgical procedure.
“He’s the only guy that’s gotten professional athletes back to their profession,” Bryan said. “He’s the only guy that’s gotten them back to the highest level. He’s done a baseball guy, an NBA guy, and a hockey. No tennis player yet until me has come back.
“Andy’s been watching me like a hawk, asking me how I’m feeling after matches, after practices, where I’m at. He’s just trying to gauge how long it would take him, if this procedure is an option.
“I’m just trying to be supportive. I never once told him this is the way to go because I do see that singles is a different monster. Those guys are really sliding around, killing themselves for four hours. Who knows if this joint would hold up.
“If I could lend a little bit of advice or support, I’m happy to do it. Andy’s extremely educated on this. No one’s done more research about hips, doctors. He knew my doctor inside and out, all the cases. The guy is knowledgeable beyond belief on the hip, on the surgery.”
Bryan watched Murray’s match on Monday night, although it made for painful viewing. He knew from experience the agony the Scot was going through and he also knew that it could have been Murray’s last match. But Bryan believes that if anyone can come back from such an injury and resume his life as a singles player, it is Murray.
“I personally don’t underestimate Andy Murray,” he said. “You look at the great workers in history: Lendl, Courier, Roddick. This guy is maybe even a step up from those guys.
“I think he’s going to have the surgery. He’s probably going to just rehab it as best he can. If he sees there’s a chance to come back, you know… I personally think he can do it. But there’s no evidence that it’s possible in tennis. I mean, so much wear and tear. But I think he could do it.
“I think he’s to the point where this is probably his last option. I would love to see him do it just for quality of life. You can sleep, walk, be with your kids, play. It’s frustrating when you can’t put on your shoes.”