Andy Murray, on the eve of his return to singles competition for the first time since his hip resurfacing surgery six months ago, was relaxed as he discussed his comeback in the Cincinnati Masters 1000 with an encouraging mixture of hope and perspective.
“I have zero pain,” he said before his first-round match against Richard Gasquet. “I’m not expecting to be moving as well as I used to but I still think I can probably move better than I am just now. But that will take time. I started playing singles again only a couple of weeks ago.
“Obviously, when you’re playing at the highest level against the best players, they hit the ball big and it takes time to get used to that again. And there’s still some improvement to come from my hip operation.”
After so many injuries and a clear uncertainty about the hip procedure, Murray’s return since his operation has been surprisingly swift. Last August in Washington the pain in his hip led him to weep audibly in his chair after a long, three-set victory against Marius Copil.
At the Australian Open in January Murray announced the hip had forced him to search for an exit route. After what seemed like one final breathless fight in a five-set first-round defeat by Roberto Bautista Agut, he has awkwardly ushered off the court to videos of his peers celebrating his career, as if he had already retired.
Since the 28 January operation, however, Murray has been consistently ahead of schedule. In June he marked his surprise doubles comeback at the Queen’s Club with a title alongside Feliciano López. At Wimbledon Murray was not even certain he would compete in the US swing in any capacity, yet he decided to return to doubles action immediately in Washington. During his appearances in Washington and Montreal he trained for singles throughout before accepting a singles wildcard into Cincinnati. He attributes the swift recovery to his hip’s response to his workload.
“Pain-wise, obviously, I don’t have pain in my hip, so that was one,” Murray said. “Recovering from practices that I had? Fine, there were no issues later in the day with my hip. And then performances in practices with top singles players. At some stage you have to take the step to try to play. My team felt like this was the right time to do that. That’s why I’m giving it a go.”
Far from an isolated test event, Murray’s comeback is already picking up steam. Though his participation in best-of-five-sets matches at the US Open remains in the balance, he announced on Sunday that he will compete at the Zhuhai Open and then the China Open in Beijing after the US Open, starting on 23 September. Still, Murray soberly acknowledges that his progress may not continue to soar. If his level is not competitive with the top players and the bad draws that inevitably lie ahead, the Scot admitted he would consider dropping down to ATP Challenger events.
“If things don’t go well and I feel like it might take me a little longer to get up to this level, then that’s definitely an option. That’s something I’d be fine with doing. Ultimately I’d like to be competing at this level. The quickest way to get up to speed is by being on the practice and match court with top players in my opinion.”
As Murray completed his first singles press conference in more than six months he shrugged before departing with perspective. “It’s gonna be difficult but, yeah, that’s just what you have to deal with. That’s the situation I’m in and I would have signed up for being in this position that I’m in right now six months ago. Absolutely.”