Andy Murray made his big return to tennis after a longstanding right hip injury that had massively impacted him towards the second half of the 2017 tennis season. He had only played one match in five months, that being the brief exhibition appearance in Scotland, where he played Roger Federer in a match that really wasn’t that taxing on the body, so we were really unaware how Murray was feeling. Could he return to the tour in time for the Australian Open? Would we see the very best of Murray once again? Those were genuine questions that many tennis fans didn’t have the answer to
His return in Abu Dhabi was a shock for many. Novak Djokovic pulled out of his semi-final match because of the same elbow injury that he had been carried for over a year, and Murray decided to step in and play a one-set exhibition match against Roberto Bautista-Agut. The Spaniard prevailed with a 6-2 scoreline, but all the talking points lied with Murray.
The first few moments were tough to spectate even as neutral. Murray sent a serve down and one severe blow from his Spanish opponent resulted in no response from the three-time Grand Slam winner. Those were worrying signs. Then the next shot, his footwork was not up to scratch as he dragged a forehand wide of the mark. Was this the end of one of tennis’ great champions? The 2016 World #1, as defiant and resilient as ever, improved as the match went on. And if the history books is anything to go by, it is safe to say that Murray should never be written off. He has proved people wrong throughout his illustrious career and maybe this is another desperate moment, which Murray can find a way out of.
This may be the toughest moment of Murray’s career. The return from back surgery in 2013 was a time where the future looked bleak for the Scot, and he did take time to return to form, and just three years later, played the best tennis of his entire career by climbing to the World No.1 ranking.
What can we take from today’s match going into the 2018 season? Murray still needs time and still needs match-play to find his better tennis. He looked a step slow moving out towards his forehand side, which is worrying, but it is also normal. The great man has not played competitive tennis for half a season, so Murray will not be hitting the panic button yet. I think the serve looked questionable. There was not much velocity behind the serve and the second serve looked vulnerable at times.
Now onto the movement in general. I thought he struggled when Bautista Agut took the rally into his own hands and made Murray question his usually superior footwork and agility around the court. The Scot has made a name for himself for being one of the great court coverers and uses his physicality to perfection, so he will need all of those attributes if he is to win major titles once again. It certainly was not at its peak during today’s match, but Murray’s movement and quality of shot improved as the match progressed, which is mentioned in his post-match interview.
It is hard to picture Murray as a serious Australian Open contender, because of the timing of the event and the lack of competitive matches under his belt, but one thing you can argue in Murray’s favour, is that he is one of a select few that know what it takes to win a major title and that counts for everything.
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