Normally, at this time of year, Andy Murray is getting nervous. Edgy, even. And he looks forward to that feeling. It tells him he is ready for the annual assault of the Wimbledon title.
This year is different. The past 12 months have been very different for him. But at least he is at the All England Club, he is practicing with the best in the world and he is planning on being on court to face Benoit Paire on Tuesday afternoon – all things being equal.
As he has taken his first steps back on the tour over the past couple of weeks, recovering day by day from hip surgery in January, he has left every door open: he may play in SW19, he may not. He will just see how he feels. But now he is feeling good and provided he and his hip remain on good terms in the next couple of days, he is ready to give Wimbledon a shot.
“Wimbledon for me is obviously special for a lot of reasons,” he said yesterday. “I always want to be here competing. It feels a little bit odd coming into the tournament this year.
“Normally at this stage I feel really nervous, lots of pressure, and I expect a lot of myself around this time of year. I’ve always loved that and enjoyed that in a way. It has been difficult, but I’ve enjoyed it, whereas this year it feels very, very different.
“In other sports when you come back, you don’t tend to come back and be competing against the best in the world immediately for five sets or three sets, whatever. You would build up a little bit, play 15 minutes, 30 minutes, and so on.
“I’m just trying right now to keep building, practicing with these guys, then hopefully pulling up each day and obviously competing in matches. I think things went well in the last couple of weeks at Queen’s and Eastbourne. So far here that’s also been the case, which is good.”
Spending 11 months away from the tour, being at home for the birth of his second daughter last November and watching her grow from day to day has given Murray a glimpse of what life will be like after tennis. With a trophy cabinet stuffed with 45 winner’s trophies, including two Wimbledon cups and one from the US Open, plus a couple of Olympic gold medals and a knighthood, there does not seem an awful lot left for the Scot to play for. On the team front, his phenomenal Davis Cup exploits will also remain among his favourite memories. If his career ended tomorrow, surely he could look forward to life at home with the kids. Perhaps not.
“I would want [my daughters] to watch me playing where I’m physically capable of playing properly, at a level that I’d be happy playing at,” he said. “I’m not just going to keep playing for four years or three years if I don’t feel like I can play, I’m in pain, I’m not enjoying it.
“I’m saying that based on the hope that I’m physically good and healthy, all of those things.
“If I had to stop tomorrow, yeah, I’d be pretty gutted with that because I still love playing, I love the sport. I enjoy watching it. I enjoy the travelling. There’s nothing about it that I’d be looking forward to sort of giving up really.
“So I want to keep playing as long as I can, providing I’m physically capable of doing that and that I’m not in a lot of pain and discomfort.”
In order to achieve that goal, Murray has had to be far more aware of how he is feeling at any given point and then relay that to his team – especially to his two physios, Shane Annun and Mark Bender. Where in the past a minor ache or pain would be brushed off, now everything is assessed and monitored. But teaching himself to be open about all aspects of his physical wellbeing is just part of the recovery process – and it is a process that will take many, many months to complete.
“There’s certain things that are still tricky and things I’m still trying to work through,” Murray said. “These things are significantly better than what they were a few months ago. That’s for sure. But, you know, again, it just takes time.
“You sometimes in practice might feel really good, and then you get on the match court and you’re pushing yourself, like, a few per cent harder. You notice other things that you’re maybe struggling with, as well. You learn a lot from competing.”
Competing against the unpredictable Paire on Tuesday is the first challenge. The Frenchman once claimed to hate grass and Wimbledon but with a big serve and a willingness to come forward, an unorthodox game and a wild streak, he can be a threat on the green stuff.
Whether Murray can win on Tuesday or not, he does not know. As for how far he can go in the tournament, he is making no predictions – this is only the beginning of the third week of his comeback, after all. Murray is just going to play and see what happens.
“How am I supposed to tell you how I’m going to feel if I play for four hours in the first match?” he said. “I wouldn’t expect to play worse tennis than I have. I would expect my level of tennis to improve on where it was at Queen’s and Eastbourne because of the matches. But in terms of how I would fare, how I would do in the tournament results-wise, I have no idea.”
All Murray does know is that – as of yesterday afternoon – he felt ready to play at Wimbledon. This year is very different to any other but at least it is looking a lot brighter than it did just a few weeks ago.