It may be the end of a Davis Cup era for Andy Murray but it may just be a new beginning for the former world No 1.
His decision not to play in Britain’s tie with Uzbekistan in Glasgow in ten days’ time could mean that he will never play a competitive match in Scotland again. Thanks to the changes in the competition’s format, starting next year, only the opening, qualifying rounds will be played on a home-or-away basis with the winners going through to a week-long event at the end of the year. That will be held in either Madrid or Lille next year.
At the age of 31, Murray – assuming he continues to recover from his hip problems and stays injury free thereafter – has only a handful of years left to his career and Britain may not draw a home tie again while he is still playing. No wonder, then, that his decision not to play was a tough one to make.
“Yes it is sad and I know that’s why Andy was seriously considering featuring in this tie,” Leon Smith, the Davis Cup captain said. “Such is the draw of playing at home. You saw what happened last time, in 2015, when both boys hadn’t played competitively for years and years – the noise that came out for that opening ceremony was bonkers. He would have loved that one more time but it’s not to be.”
Smith continued: “It was a massive pull for him, to play, and that’s why he was really considering it [playing] but after what he has gone through it’s absolutely clear that he has to listen to the team around him and that has to be his priority. I get that but I know it was not an easy decision.
“Andy’s such a big draw and he’ll have wanted to play in front of the fans, but I can’t stress enough – he has to look after his body. He has to look after his body. And he is looking after it.”
Various options were discussed, including Murray playing only in the doubles with his brother but at this point in his comeback from injury, Murray must look at the bigger picture.
Long-term, he wants to keep playing for as long as possible and after his efforts at the US Open, where he played the best tennis of his comeback so far even though he lost in four sets to Fernando Verdasco, he believes he will be able to compete at the very top of the game again. But he has to take it slowly.
While his team-mates prepare in Glasgow, Murray will stay behind in the United States to continue his rehab programme and strengthen his hip. During the hard court swing this summer, he set up a base camp in Philadelphia and that is where he will stay as he prepares for a tilt at the Asian tournaments starting at the end of the month. His hip problems kept him off tour for more than 11 months; trying to rush his comeback is simply not an option now.
“He’s made really good progress from where he has been,” Smith said. “But he’s just missed so much tennis. He’s finally making that progress and he’s obviously really listening to the advice he’s getting. The last thing I’d want to happen is if he feels the pull, the sentiment of playing, and it sets him back a little bit.
“The number one focus for him will be – as he keeps saying – by the time he gets to Australia next year to be in a really, really good place and have a great 2019, injury free.”
That is part of the new beginning for Murray. At times against Verdasco in New York, he looked like the player of old. The glimpses were fleeting but it proved that his competitive fire still burns as bright as ever, his game is still in good order and all he needs now is a decent run of matches and time to work on his rehab programme. But to prolong his playing life, Murray has said many times that he will have to look closely at his schedule to give his body time to rest and recover. That may mean missing Davis Cup entirely.
“I hope he features again,” Smith said. “I know he’s loved it, and I know he’s mentioned through his press conferences when asked about the new format, that he’d give it a go and see if it works. That’s certainly our mindset now: OK, let’s enjoy this one more tie we’ve got coming up in Glasgow and then embrace what’s happening next year.”
Win or lose against Uzbekistan, Britain will be playing for a place in the end-of-year finals come next February. Should they win in Glasgow, they would be seeded and so earn a better draw and better chance of making that grand finale.
In the absence of Murray and Kyle Edmund, who is struggling with his fitness levels due to a recurring virus, it falls to Jamie Murray, Dom Inglot, Cameron Norrie, Dan Evans and Jay Clarke to get the job done.
Andy may be back in February, he may not but by missing this tie this month, he may just have given himself the chance to relaunch himself as a grand slam contender.