The Comeback Lottery: What Will (or Can) Andy Murray Do Next?

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Marcel Hunze is a happy man. Only yesterday, the tournament director of the Libema Open 2018, announced confirmation that Andy Murray has chosen Hunze’s tournament to make the long-anticipated comeback the tennis world has sorely needed and wanted, ever since Murray had a labral tear in his right hip surgically repaired in January this year.

Libema is the brand new sponsor of the tournament, which is better known as the Rosmalen or ’s-Hertogenbosch tournament, the premier tennis event in The Netherlands. The tournament has a sturdy reputation on the ATP. It has never matched the glittering emerald glow of the Queen’s Club Stella Artois tournament or The Halle Open. These have historically been the two most desirable crowns for the pros in the intense run up to the grass court pinnacle of The Championships, Wimbledon.

Queen’s and Halle

Queen’s has been dominated by Nadal and Murray himself, and Halle has been dominated by Federer, who this year is going for an incredible 10th title there. So it makes a lot of sense that Murray has chosen one of the smaller jewels of the tour to try and reacclimatize himself to the fierce high level of the top tier of the men’s tour, and the betting which way his first results will go is very close to call.

Murray’s career has been based more on grit than talent (abundant though the talent is), so this bodes well for his comeback. Commentators have had precious few titbits to analyse from the Murray camp in the previous twelve months but those that have been given indicate a pragmatic and passionate approach from Team Murray.

Baby Steps

Judy Murray has made it clear with public quotes that her son thinks it would be a false economy for him to come back when his body isn’t ready. It’s more than likely he has studied some of the history of the comeback game. In recent times Serena Williams took a year off to have her first child, a daughter called Olympia. Serena had actually told her coach she was pregnant at sixteen weeks. She immediately insisted that they be ready for the following year’s first Grand Slam, the Australian Open. Although we must admire her dedication, this was a classic case of a kamikaze mind ruling the sound principle of listening to your body, as, twelve months later, after making the gruelling trip to Australia, complete with her three month old child, she realised as soon as she hit for a few sessions, there was no way she could compete properly to win. Whilst Murray’s offspring has been a far less desirable hip labral tear, he is respecting his body fully by not rushing back to the court.

Press Release Passion

The best thing to have come from Murray’s mouth in the year-long near-vacuum of communication has been glimpses of his genuine pure passion for the sport. He released a press statement with very heartfelt wording about how the only real sliver lining of his enforced layoff was his realisation that he really, really loved the sport, and was actually surprised how much he missed the white heat of competition. For those that know Murray well, and know how fierce a competitor he is, it is not a huge surprise to hear this. But at the same time, in  the mostly bland and anodyne world of professional sport media releases, it was a promising thing to hear the hunger seep through the polished words. Let’s hope that intense hunger is allowed to show up on the court.

It is no coincidence that Murray chose a grass court for his comeback. The surface is by far the easiest on the body and it will give him a hopeful platform to build into something approaching decent form to give himself at least an outside shot at winning Wimbledon. If Rosmalen goes well he could well find himself participating in the Stella Artois tournament too. After a whole year off the tour, it would not be wise to come back to a string of hard court tournaments.

Platform of Confidence

Grass is the surface on which he has won the majority of his Grand Slams, so hopefully getting a few wins under his belt will provide a platform of confidence for Part Two of his career. (He has actually taken extended time off before – six months in 2004, but this was his last year of junior play, he returned to the tour and turned pro successfully in 2005.)

Comebacks from History

It is usual for players with even major injuries to take a three month or six month break from the tour, but players who have been side-lined for a whole year are really up against it. Looking at the historical precedent of whether top pros can take a whole 12 months out and come back to compete at the very highest level, the signs are challenging for Murray. John McEnroe took a year out in 1988-1989, citing fatigue from the tour, he came back but never reached a Grand Slam final again. His best showing was the 1992 Wimbledon semi-final. Justine Henin took a year out with an elbow injury and she did reach a Grand Slam final, but was stopped by Serena Williams in a thrilling three set Aussie Open final. Steffi Graf is the only player we are aware of who took a whole year out and managed to win one more Grand Slam title, her knee surgery saw her miss 12 months in 1997-1998, and finally she won the French Open in 1999.

Luck and Lust

Let’s hope Murray can channel both luck and lust for success to bring home the trophies he surely deserves, given the commitment he has shown to his career. It would be sad not to see him lift the Australian trophy, after his five previous runner-up finishes there. Lleyton Hewitt and Tommy Haas had identical surgeries to the one Murray has had. On coming back, Hewitt never reached his previous level, Haas came back and exceeded his level. All fans of Murray’s tactical, physical, breathtakingly brilliant game will be hoping he can follow the Haas pattern and take more silverware back home to the UK.

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