It would be entirely understandable if Andy Murray were a little emotional when he walked onto the court for his first-round match at today’s French Open.
For the first time since 2017, the Scot is back at Roland-Garros, three years after his right hip eventually gave way after a tough semifinal against Stan Wawrinka that he lost in five grueling sets.
As luck would have it, Wawrinka, a man who has undergone two knee operations since their 2017 meeting, with the two having developed an even deeper friendship in the meantime, will be Murray’s opponent today.
As he underwent hip surgery in January 2019, Wawrinka also sent Murray a giant teddy bear – a moment of exhilaration as the Scot laid in his hospital bed, uncertain whether he’d ever be able to play again.
Their semifinal in Paris that day in 2017 was the turning point for both men, and as he prepared to face his old friend again, Murray said he had sensed something was up even before his quarterfinal against Kei Nishikori.
“A few minutes before I went on court for this match, my hip didn’t feel good,” Murray recalled from Paris yesterday.
I went back and it didn’t feel good to do any movements. Obviously, I got through that, my hip didn’t feel good, and then the match was brutal (against Wawrinka).
“I didn’t sleep much that night. My hip hurt quite a lot. That night, I probably just slept a few hours. I knew something was wrong when I got back to the practice court. I was trying to serve, and I wasn’t able to straighten my leg, and I couldn’t force myself to serve.
“When I tried to run out to a forehand, my right leg wasn’t, it wasn’t going, it wasn’t stretching right. Obviously, I was limping when I was running, too. It never recovered. It never recovered from that match.”
The fact that both men are playing again borders on miraculous, and at the highest level.
As he attempted to return from his first knee surgery at the 2019 Australian Open, Wawrinka was on the verge of tears, and it took a second operation a few months later to finally get him back on track.
In his return, the Swiss is farther along, now ranked 17th, but then he doesn’t have a metal hip.
The return of Murray is truly a miracle; while double star Bob Bryan had similar surgery and made a good return, by doing it in singles, where the demands on the body are much greater, Murray, now ranked 111th, leads the way.
Last year, when he won his first ATP title since the Antwerp surgery – beating Wawrinka in the final – things looked fine, but a bone spur near his hip forced him to take time off and ultimately skip the Australian Open.
Murray showed good form after returning to action in the United States this summer when he defeated American Frances Tiafoe in Cincinnati and world No. 5 Alexander Zverev, who reached the final of the US Open.
And at the US Open, when he came back from a two-set deficit and a break down to defeat Yoshihito Nishioka in the first round, Murray proved he had lost none of his fighting spirit.
The match took too much out of him and in the second round he was defeated by Canadian Felix Auger-Aliassime before tendinitis in his psoas (hip flexor) forced him to break for a few days longer than he would have liked.
His results in New York, however, persuaded him that his game is there, and while time is not on his side at 33, he now needs a clear fitness run to determine how high he will be able to scale the ladder back to the top.
“What I would like is six months of consistent training, tournaments and rest,” he said.
For instance, where I’m ranked now, this week I can feel good and then I’m going to draw Stan in the first round. Or (Novak) Djokovic.
“That’s the thing that’s going to be challenging, making sure you show up to the tournaments, be ready, play and win against the top players early in the events, rely a little bit on the draw and hopefully get some breaks along the way.”
It’s possible to have more success, Murray believes.
I know it’s going to be very hard to get back up there, but I think I’ll certainly win some more tournaments and have some more good wins if I have five to six months to be able to participate in the tournaments that I want and practice properly,”I’m aware that it’s going to be very hard to get back up there, but I think if I have five to six months of being able to compete in the tournaments that I want to and train properly, I’ll definitely win some more tournaments and have some more good wins,”