Today, in front of eager British tennis fans at Queen’s Club, Scotsman Andy Murray suited up for his first match of 2018.
He has won the Queen’s Club Championships five times, one of the pivotal tune-up tournaments before the players head to the All England Club for Wimbledon. In the two times that Murray has won Wimbledon, he has also been victorious at Queen’s.
The Scottish superstar would have a difficult first-round match, facing off against the pesky Aussie Nick Kyrgios. But after a year of rehab, setbacks and doubt whether he would ever play tennis again, Murray is back playing competitively, which is exciting for the tennis world.
Murray Found Success in a Tough Era
When Andy was healthy at the top of his game, many tennis experts believed he was the 4th best player in the world, alongside Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic. In an era dominated with Major wins by Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic, Murray was able to capture three Grand Slam tournaments to date and an eight-time finalist in Major championships.
2016 was by far the Brit’s best year on the ATP Tour. He won nine times, including making three of the four Grand Slam finals. He won his 2nd Wimbledon, which would propel him to number two in the world (behind Djokovic) and on his way to winning the season-ending ATP Finals in Paris.
When Federer and Nadal were away from the game in 2016, it looked as though the torch was being passed to Djokovic and Murray. What dazzled tennis fans, including those raucous British supporters, was Murray’s ability to defend and run down every ball with ease. He would wear opponents down with his defense and switch up the pace of his groundstrokes to generate success.
Hip Injury Forces Murray to Exit Tennis
Murray’s last victory on the ATP Tour came in 2017. He defeated Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2.
Like his fellow rival Novak Djokovic, Andy would then catch the injury bug, hindering his performance on the court. Demonstrating his toughness and will to compete, Murray would still compete in the French Open and Wimbledon that year. He would lose in the semifinals in Paris to Swiss Stan Wawrinka in five sets and then Sam Querrey in the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.
The hip that was nagging Andy turned into a full-blown injury. It first started with him missing the Rogers Cup and Cincinnati Masters.
Then, it resulted in the Brit missing the U.S. Open, season-ending championships and the Australian Open earlier this year. The hip got so bad that Murray needed surgery to correct the injury.
At 31, undergoing hip surgery may indicate the ending of a career. But for Murray, his resilience and tenacity show that a successful comeback is definitely possible.
“I always thought I’d come back and play again,” the three-time Grand Slam champion said, now ranked 157th in the world. “I would love to get back to the top of the game.”
Murray Loses to Kyrgios in Three-Set Battle
Before their first round match at Queen’s, Murray had a perfect 5-0 record against Kyrgios. But he realized that playing the Aussie on the grass, especially coming back from injury, would be a difficult challenge.
“Nick is a brilliant player on all surfaces but particularly on grass because of the way he plays and serves,” said Murray. “When he is mentally switched on he is one of the best players in the world.”
The first set was exactly how Murray wanted to start. He was moving well, the ball was coming off his racquet with speed and he was able to craft shots to get Kyrgios uncomfortable. The Scotsman would sail to a 6-2 victory in just 41 minutes after the Aussie double-faulted.
The second set was much more even. There were terrific shots on both sides, from Kyrgios’s between-the-legs baseline bombs to delicate drop shots and terrific court coverage from Murray. The second set would go to a tiebreaker where the Aussie would catch fire and win 7-6(4).
The third set would be a question of who had the better fitness. Survival of the fittest was put to the test with Murray not playing a three-set match for over 300 days and Kyrgios suffering from an apparent hip issue.
With Murray having a chance to serve for a third set breaker, he would double fault at match point, giving Kyrgios the crucial first-round win. The Aussie’s 18 aces and 60% serve percentage went a long way in raining on the comeback of Murray.
With being gone for so long, Murray is realistic about his comeback.
“I have no expectations,” said the Scotsman. “After almost a year out of the game there are going to be doubts and the best way to get over that is by getting out there, competing and to see where we’re at.”
Comebacks are never easy. Not many tennis players are like Federer and Nadal, who can be gone from the game for an extended period of time and win majors shortly coming back from injury.
For Murray, it is clear it will take some time to return to that top form. But after a positive start against Kyrgios, which saw glimpses of his full arsenal of weapons being utilized, expect success to be around the corner.
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