Davis Cup glory for Murray would be one of the greatest ever stories in tennis
A very happy Andy Murray is looking forward to the 'next few years' with the 2019 Davis Cup and 2020 season approaching - and why shouldn't he, asks David Avakian?
"I didn’t do anything for 12 days. Literally nothing,” Murray said at a presentation of his new collection with clothing sponsor Castore. The two-time Olympic champion was describing his time spent since the victory in Belgium and the birth of his son. “I got up to my heaviest weight in my career probably.
“It was evenings that were the issue. My wife would get a period of good sleep in before the baby would wake up. I’d be on my own downstairs eating chocolate biscuits and stuff. There was also Halloween, our second daughter’s birthday party and my sister-in-law also had a birthday, so there was lots of cake and junk,” Murray explained, employing his famously dry sense of humour.
“With no training, that’s not a good combination. I was 88.5 kilos and I’m normally 84.”
With the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid on this week’s schedule, Murray is back to familiar form. Great Britain, participating with a wildcard and drawn into Group E, are set to kick off against Netherlands on November 20, followed by a meeting with Kazakhstan a day later. Judging by his level of play at the end of the Asian Swing and the sweet victory in Antwerp, the 32-year-old looks ready for a strong showing at the revamped event in the Spanish capital.
Should Murray maintain or improve his fine form and help the Brits thrive on the green hard courts of the Caja Mágica, it will be an almost impossible task to describe the scale of the achievement. A return to pro singles tennis after hip resurfacing surgery is already an unprecedented feat. If he leads Team GB to Davis Cup glory alongside his brother Jamie, Dan Evans, Kyle Edmund, and Neal Skupski, Murray’s comeback story will cement its place among the most impressive the sport has ever seen.
Yet the unique nature of Murray’s situation comes with uncertainty. He says he feels “zero pain in the hip” and surgeon Sarah Muirhead-Allwood is happy with the progress. But no person has had to play a five-hour, five-set singles match with a metal hip in extreme heat, let alone multiple matches.
This is the uncharted territory Murray could find himself in come January, when the Australian Open takes place in Melbourne, 12 months after the world of tennis announced his premature farewell at the very same event.
Then again, if there’s no pain to hold him back and his artificial hip proves to be immune to the violence modern tennis bestows upon the body, why shouldn’t Murray be able to reach an even higher level than ever? Perhaps the sky is the limit, not the hip.
A high level of tennis is certainly required considering the tour Murray has returned to. His traditional rivals Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer are still on top of the game and the next generation of top players finally showed in 2019 that they could regularly challenge the Big Three.
Before his singles comeback at the Masters 1000 tournament in Cincinnati this summer, Murray tried to explain to a small group of journalists why the field keeps struggling against the ATP’s enduring trio, especially on the big stages.
"They are just better tennis players,” Murray pointed out earnestly.
"I mean, physically some of the young guys are extremely good. Look at the way someone like Tsitsipas moves for example. But as tennis players, in terms of skill, the top players are just different. They are able to do more things on the court. They defend unbelievably well and their hand skills in defence are brilliant.
Last Supper at the top table: (clockwise, from bottom left) Murray, Nadal, Federer, DjokovicEurosport
"If Roger, Novak or Rafa were playing in a previous era I can't see many guys beating them either, honestly. I just don't. They are that good. It's not necessarily the fault of the younger guys, but when you face the three best players ever, not just one, it's so hard to win competitions because often you need to beat them back-to-back.”
As the only player outside the Big Three who has succeeded in ending a year (2016) as world number one in the last 15 years, Murray knows what he is talking about. So far in his comeback, the three-time Grand Slam Champion hasn’t faced one of the three living legends yet. That could change during this week’s Davis Cup Finals, where Djokovic and Nadal are scheduled to play.
The highest-ranked opponent Murray has faced with his resurfaced hip is Dominic Thiem. The Austrian, a finalist at last week’s ATP Finals in London, was number five in the world when he proved too strong in Beijing in September.
Improving his own ranking is not a goal in and of itself, Murray declared in Antwerp. The big picture is what matters most at this point in his career and he is wary of repeating past mistakes.
“I've always been more interested in competing for the biggest tournaments, winning events, rather than focusing on ranking. I think that when I got to world number one in 2016 it became something very important and a lot of things I was doing and deciding, like scheduling, were dictated by ranking.
“The rankings are not the most important thing to me anymore. I would rather play a schedule that is better for me in the longer term physically. I will give myself more rest and breaks during the year so that in the tournaments I do play, I compete well and have good runs.
“I'm in a good place. I have no issue with my hip. I'm able to do what I've always done. Maybe it’s not quite the level I had in my mid-twenties, but I'm pretty competitive with most of the players. I'm happy and looking forward to the next few years.”
So are we, Andy. So are we.