Andy Murray will return to French Open action in confident mood on Sunday as he continues to gain belief that he will be able to resurrect his top-level player.
Murray, the three-time Grand Slam champion from Dunblane, will take on Stan Wawrinka in the final match of the day on Philippe-Chatrier – Roland Garros’ main show court – in his first match on the clay courts of Paris since 2017.
His opponent on his last appearance is the same as the Swiss three-time major winner he will face this weekend. On that day, Murray was beaten in five sets in the semi-finals in a match that became the beginning of the end for the former world No. 1’s time in the upper echelons of men’s tennis.
After 18 months of false starts, a hip resurfacing operation a year-and-a-half ago has injected new life into the Murray machine and the man with a metal hip defeated Wawrinka in Antwerp to win his first ATP title last October.
Niggles and the coronavirus pandemic have forced Murray to remain patient as his career continued to stall but there were signs of encouragement on a trip to the States that saw him beat German world No. 7, and eventual US Open finalist, Alexander Zverev in the Western & Southern Open before recovering from two sets down in a vintage Murray comeback in the first round of New York’s hard court Grand Slam.
Now, he feels the future is bright. While he accepts there will be ups and downs along the way – including cruel draws such as landing 16th seed and 2015 champion Wawrinka in the first-round at Roland Garros – and that it will take time to rebuild his ranking, Murray is adamant there are better days to come and he still believes he can mix it with the best in the world.
Andy Murray potential route to French Open glory
‘What I would love six months of consistent practise, tournaments, resting,’ said Murray. ‘The schedule is smooth.
‘If that is the case then I do feel…the thing which is hard is that where I am ranked now, for example, I can feel good this week and then I draw Stan in the first round. Or [Novak] Djokovic.
‘Like in Cincinnati I beat Zverev, who was seeded three. You are playing the best players early in tournaments and with the two-year ranking system, it’s a lot harder to improve your ranking. No people are losing points each week.
‘To get to 50 in the world the points you will need to get there will be significantly more than what they usually are. Players are adding to their points tally. Whereas I have no… apart from Antwerp and the points at the end of the year, I hardly have any points on the computer.
‘That’s the thing which will be challenging, making sure you turn up for the tournaments, ready, play and win against the top players early on in the events. Rely a bit on draws and hopefully get a few breaks along the way.
‘I am aware it will be really hard to get back up there but I feel if I can get five-six months where I am able to compete in the tournaments I want to, and practise properly, I will definitely win some more tournaments and have some more good wins.’
Murray can expect another gruelling battle with Wawrinka – someone he describes as a ‘good guy’ – on Sunday but he is fairly certain that he won’t be enduring more sleepless nights as was the case in 2017 when he was kept awake with agonising hip pain.
‘Impact-wise, I think the clay is better for that,’ added Murray when discussing whether clay courts are better or worse for his body than a hard court. ‘When you stop abruptly on a hard court, my understanding is that the forces going through your body are significantly higher than they are on clay.
‘But then because the time under tension, the muscles – like when you are sliding and stuff – is longer, then in theory over the course of a match your muscles will get more fatigued, and then when the muscles are more fatigued they are maybe not able to protect the joint as well.
‘So who knows exactly what is better for me. It was more my back that was an issue than my hip on clay, and that still can get stiff from time to time but I have managed that pretty well, the last three-four years that I have played on the clay, it didn’t give me much bother at all.
‘But I would usually have quite a decent preparation, I tried, like a few times I didn’t play Monte Carlo and took a longer period so that my body could get used to it. Things like that help. I haven’t had any issues with my hip at all since I started playing on it so that’s a positive.’
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