O ver the past few days, as if being a British tennis fan isn’t involving enough, Wimbledon’s stands have been full of amateur physiotherapists, checking on the rehab of our greatest-ever sportsman.
This is not a duty Andy Murray wanted them to have and nor is it one they sought for themselves. But it is what it is. Murray’s progress with his metal hip is a matter of deep national significance.
Every appearance back on court in SW19 – and these ended yesterday with defeat alongside Serena Williams in the mixed doubles – was like a post-op outpatients’ appointment. Everything he did, or didn’t quite manage to do, was scrutinised. How do we think he’s moving? What’s his serve like? How’s his returning on the right side?
Even Williams got into the mood of this great obsession in the pair’s closing media conference when – asked to sum up the experience of sitting next to Murray when the questions come – assumed the role of the anxious journo.
Williams, turning to her partner: “How is your body?”
Murray, smiling: “Feels good, thanks.”
Williams: “Are you going to be able to play New York?”
Murray, really giggling now: “I’m not sure. I need to train, get stronger, we’ll see…”
But being next to Murray on the courts of the All-England Club? She loved that. “I think to play on this stage with Andy, who has done so well here for so many years, is literally a lifetime experience. I’m so happy that I got to do it,” Williams said. The crowds loved it, too. The Andy ’n’ Serena Show moved from No 1 Court to Centre and yesterday over to No 2. The pair couldn’t quite keep the tour going, with both coming back from injury, but it was fun while it lasted.
“We had so much fun,” said Williams, “and we aren’t ready for it to be over. I haven’t played mixed in like forever but we had a good tournament and for our first time together I think we did really well.”
For Murray, whose injury required the most dramatic intervention, the hook-up – and also those in the men’s doubles over three different tournaments – have obviously had a serious purpose. “I think I achieved a lot,” he said. “I got on the court and I think, considering my lack of matches, I did okay. The most positive thing is that my body felt good – my hip anyway felt good.”
The double-act – Murrena – exited in the third round, beaten 6-3, 4-6, 6-2 by Brazil’s Bruno Soares and Nicole Melichar of America. There was no shame as this pair are the top seeds. Soares – until recently Jamie Murray’s partner in men’s doubles until the latter decided to move on – can be an up-and-down player but yesterday was in the mood. He served strongly, although was broken in the second set to let Murrena back into the contest – and his overheads were invariably winners, in contrast to Murray’s which lacked his usual power, while Williams often boomed them long. Melichar policed the net well and her lobbing from the back of the court was probably the feature-shot of the match. “We weren’t getting lots of free points and had to work for every game,” admitted Murray. “They deserved to win.”
It might have been different if Williams had been able to repeat her blistering form from the duo’s second-round victory the previous evening, but if she wasn’t overhitting she was undercooking, with Murray also finding the net as the crowd, including the Scot’s mum Judy and wife Kim and the serial Grand Slammer’s sister Venus, kept hoping they would find a rhythm to match that of their opponents, who weren’t leaving many gaps around the court.
When Murrena were able to pounce, the stands hoped the contest might turn in their favour but after tying the score at one-all, Murray proceeded to lose his serve at the start of the final set. He and Williams were always playing catch-up after that, despite a smash and a sharp volley from Murray offering a glimmer of hope for a revival in what ultimately proved to be the final game.
Mixed doubles has enjoyed a superstar sheen in SW19 and Williams hoped this would bring more male-female partnerships on to the courts. “It’s something I see in my community in Florida, so many people playing mixed. It’s super-fun,” she said.
The chances of teaming up with Murray again in the future are up in the air. “Both of us are obviously focused on our health, taking it one day at a time, seeing what happens from there,” she added.
Murray is keen for some specific scientific data on how his body has stood up to the grass court season. “I’m doing some physical testing next week. I did some pre-Queens so it will be interesting to see what’s happened these last four weeks.” For him next there will be no more knockabout fun with Williams, just hard work. “Four to six weeks of training, more testing, and hopefully I will have progressed again. But, like I’ve said, quite a long way to go.”
There was just time, from both of them, for one last reflection on the Murrena project and what they’d enjoyed about it. Murray said he knew Williams would be competitive but standing next to this winning machine, feeding off it, had been great.
“And I just love Andy’s spirit,” said Williams. “It’s so fun to play with him, he’s so calm and chilled, and I loved having the support.”