Andy Murray returns to Wimbledon singles competition next week for the first time after four long, arduous years filled with injuries, setbacks and despair. As he faces Nikoloz Basilashvili, the 24th seed, he will do so determined that this will be a stepping stone for more majors to come rather than an end point in his career.
Asked the inevitable question of whether he feels this may be his last Championships, Murray made himself clear: “I don’t want it to be my last Wimbledon,” he said. “That’s not my plan. I’m not going into Wimbledon thinking I’m saying goodbye. I want to keep going and I want to keep playing, but obviously I don’t know.
“If I got a significant injury or whatever then that would obviously change things but I guess that’s the same with most players when they get into their mid-30s. I’m still planning on playing for as long as I can so I hope that’s not the case.”
While this has been another difficult year with injury and illness, Murray returns to the singles draw in one of his more positive periods of this season so far. During his last appearance in 2017, he competed as world No 1 and the defending champion but his serious hip problems had flared up at the French Open and by Wimbledon he was broken. Despite playing through excruciating pain, he was a set away from the semi-final before losing against Sam Querrey in five sets.
“I think I would have beaten Querrey in that match but with each minute that passed, I was feeling worse,” he says. “When I got off the court, usually I’m devastated after losing at Wimbledon but I was like: ‘So happy that’s over.’ I just wasn’t enjoying it and just with each set, each match, it was getting worse and worse. That was one of my better achievements to make the quarters that year, getting close to the semis.”
Murray is not in the same position today. His recent outing at Queen’s Club, where he defeated Benoît Paire before a respectable 6-3, 6-3 defeat against the eventual champion Matteo Berrettini, was a positive experience. He moved well throughout both of his matches and, aside from his residual groin issues, he did so freely.
After all of his injury problems and with his metal hip, it would make sense if his movement was compromised but he rather just lacks conviction in his strokes. Murray looked precisely like someone who has played very few matches recently and who needs many more.
“I think I can do a lot better than what I did in that match with the two matches under my belt. Hopefully four or five high-quality practices this week,” says Murray. “I’m not saying I’ll get to exactly where I want to be but I think I can get myself a bit closer.”
Murray and his team can laugh about the ordeal of his Wimbledon experience in 2017 when they discuss it now. He says his victories under such difficult circumstances further reaffirm that he is still capable of competing well since he is still moving fluidly and no longer in similar pain. The question remains whether his body will allow him the run of matches, including across the best of five sets, but he clearly believes he can find some level of success if that does prove possible.
“I don’t think there’s that many guys that are unbelievably comfortable on grass so that plays in my favour. Obviously a lot of the younger guys didn’t get the opportunity to play on it last year. I practiced with someone like [Jannik] Sinner and he played four matches on grass in his life because he didn’t play juniors and he didn’t play last year so that’s something that will work in my favour hopefully.”
Four years is a long time, and in this period Murray has had to wrestle with his body and watch his old rivals from afar after a long period at the top of the sport. His ranking has dropped from No 1 to 119. Away from the court, his family has expanded significantly. Murray says that time has changed him in some aspects – he is more reflective and determined to enjoy the remainder of his time in the sport, but some things never change.
“I’m still extremely competitive,” he says. “Still go in and want to work hard and train hard every day to try and improve and get better and give myself the chance to play at the highest level.”