Is Wimbledon 2019 another step on bionic Andy Murray’s return to the top?
After Andy Murray completed a dream return to the tennis tour by winning the Queen’s doubles title alongside Feliciano Lopez this week, it felt a long time since the drama of January. It was then, of course, when a tearful and clearly pained Murray announced at a pre-Australian Open press conference that the Grand Slam would likely spell the end of his career, with him no longer able to fight against the pain of a long-standing, debilitating hip injury.
In typical Braveheart fashion, the Scot produced a battling performance in the first round at Melbourne Park against the Spaniard Roberto Bautista-Agut, a player who was in fantastic form and coming off a recent victory against Novak Djokovic, who would go on to win the tournament. Watching Murray’s grit, it was hard to believe that this was a man struggling so deeply with his damaged body and difficult to imagine this being the end of a career that had achieved so much success yet had seen even more near-misses and heartache.
Murray ultimately lost the match, his body unable to find the extra percentages required to compete at the same level as his mind. Nevertheless, there was a sense of victory in defeat. The reception of spectators was akin to a Davis Cup tie, or a football match. Thousands cheered passionately for Murray, with Melbourne Park being an arena where the Brit has achieved so much success and failure, reaching and losing in no less than five finals here. Murray himself couldn’t deny that it didn’t feel like an ending but, rather, a pause. His speech to the crowd was non-committal yet hopeful of a return in the future and there was definitely a sense of hope. Murray was not done yet.
Several weeks later, a critical decision was made. After deep consideration, Murray agreed to go through with a hip resurfacing operation. Far from a simple surgery, no guarantees could be made over any possibility of a return to the sport, the priority was merely to have a sufficient quality of life. Moreover, there have not been enough cases which could set a definitive precedent. Only one notable athlete in tennis had gone through a similar procedure, Mike Bryan, one half of the iconic Bryan brothers. Although he was able to come back to competition, singles and doubles tennis are a world apart, and a pragmatic stance was that Murray would be lucky to get through the surgery and live a pain-free life, rather than holding any thoughts of a return to top competition.
Nonetheless, just a few months later, the moment that most tennis fans had hoped for arrived. Seemingly against the laws of human biology, the former world number one announced that he had in fact decided to return to competition, starting with a foray into the doubles world to test just how well his ‘bionic hip’ could hold up on the court. Nobody really expected Murray to achieve immediate success, or could define exactly what ‘success’ would even be at this point. Coming back from the brink of a forced retirement, a simple return to competition should have been seen as a significant win.
Murray, however, has never been content with merely competing. A winning spirit and hard work have often been shown to be more important than pure talent alone but Murray encapsulates both. In his return to the green lawns of the Queens Club in London, Murray and the Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez managed to lift the doubles trophy, beating Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury in a tense and exciting three-set final. Lopez was a standalone story himself, also winning the singles title at the age of 37, capping off a year in which he had struggled to keep fit or get past a first round of a tournament, seemingly drifting towards retirement. Once again, tennis had an example of the comebacks and against-all-odds storylines which make the sport so great.
At the height of growing expectancy and perhaps complacency, Murray’s next foray was less successful, losing in the first round at Eastbourne alongside Brazilian doubles specialist Marcelo Melo. Although the setback could be seen as lost momentum, it was in some ways inevitable and should not detract from the achievements of a few days prior. With each court appearance, Murray will become stronger and more confident and there is every reason to feel optimistic for his next opportunity, the Wimbledon Men’s Doubles, where Murray will partner Pierre-Hugues Herbert, a man who has won every Doubles Grand Slam in his career and should be an adept wingman.
Whether the pairing succeed is less relevant than Murray’s continuing comeback, one that has proven once again that extraordinary things can be achieved for those who do not give up on their dreams and are determined to prove the nay-sayers wrong. We now know that hip resurfacings are not necessarily career-killing injuries but Murray will be determined to prove that he isn’t just hoping to compete again, he is coming back to win.
Although he won’t be competing in the singles at Wimbedon, there is every chance that we could see Murray return to the scene of his first Grand Slam win in 2012, the US Open, this time as a lone competitor. Whether he can defy the odds again by succeeding on that stage is yet to be seen but, after everything he has achieved to date, you wouldn’t put it past him.