Andy Murray revealed he will almost certainly not play singles at the US Open, as he warned his return to solo action could take another year or more.
Although the three-time Grand Slam champion said his comeback performances over the last month have made him positive about his future, he is firm on the fact he will not rush back.
And rather than play doubles during the US hard-court swing, he said he may opt to take a break from competition after Wimbledon and focus on training instead.
Quizzed on when he will make his singles comeback, he gave his strongest update yet when responding: ‘I don’t know exactly. I can’t give you an exact timeframe because I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to physically get to that level.
‘I know some people might like it to have taken five months or six months, but it’s going to take more time than that, unfortunately. Whether that’s nine months or 12 months or 18 months, I don’t know. I’ll do my best to make it as soon as I can. I can’t give an exact timeframe on this. It’s tough.’
British tennis fans had reason to be hopeful that Murray would make a swift transition from doubles to singles action after Wimbledon.
And although he made several errors in his and Serena Williams’ latest mixed doubles win – against the experienced pairing Raquel Atawo and Fabrice Martin – he crucially confirmed afterwards that he had got through another match playing ‘pain-free’.
Fundamentally, the reason for the surprisingly lengthy timeframe from Murray appears to be a positive one, with the 32-year-old plotting a long-term return to the sport.
Indeed, central to his decision-making is the fact that he does not want to have more surgery further down the line, and instead wants the hip resurfacing he had done in January to ‘last as long as possible’.
On his likelihood of playing the US hard-court tournaments, which culminates in the US Open at the end of August, he said: ‘I think it’s pretty unlikely just in terms of timing. I spoke to my team a bit about that yesterday. Just a lot of stuff I need to get done physically, get myself stronger.
‘The amount of work I need to do on the court to get ready for singles, the amount of work I need to put in off the court to get myself strong enough to play best-of-five sets, it’s still quite a way away unfortunately.
‘I would love to play. I need to look, like, pretty long-term with this. I don’t want to be having to go through another big operation in a few years’ time. I want to make sure the operation I’ve had lasts for as long as possible. To give it the best chance, I need to make sure that, I’m physically, you know, really strong before I get back on the singles court.’
For now, Murray’s sole focus is on triumphing in the mixed doubles with Williams on Sunday, and ‘once in a lifetime’ returning from Williams helped take them one step closer, as they beat Martin and Atawo 7-5, 6-3.
Williams had had less than three hours to recover from her quarter-final battle with Alison Riske, but showed no signs of fatigue during her second outing of the day on Centre Court with a string of stunning winners, which made up for Murray struggling to capitalise on several break points.
A stern test follows on Wednesday, however, as they face No 1 seeds Bruno Soares and defending mixed doubles champion Nicole Melichar.