At the end of a disappointing season, Andy Murray is looking forward to the next and is full of ‘motivation’ to return to some of the biggest stages in tennis.
Murray, the former world No. 1 from Dunblane, admitted he felt ‘down’ after bringing his season to a halt after a defeat to Fernando Verdasco in Cologne – his fourth loss in his last five matches.
It was a year to forget. He skipped the Australian Open with a pelvic problem before a planned comeback in Miami was thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic.
His only competitive on-court highs came in New York. He clinched a top-10 win over Alexander Zverev in the relocated Western & Southern Open before fighting back from two sets down to win in five sets against Yoshihito Nishioka.
He failed to win again in 2020 beyond that epic and was thrashed by fellow three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka at the French Open – his heaviest defeat at a Slam.
Still, there’s no question in Murray’s mind that he can still mix it with the very best and go deep in events, if his body is on side.
‘I haven’t forgotten how to play tennis,’ said Murray. ‘I’ve seen enough in the limited amount I have played in the last year – basically from Asia through until Antwerp last year – and then the matches I played over in New York.
‘I was beating a top-10 player in Cincinnati, top-50 players, and then obviously at the end of last year I was still winning against guys like Stan.
‘So I know I will perform and win big matches if I can get properly fit and healthy for an extended period of time. And that’s why I’m doing the work just now to try and avoid having any issues next year.’
Players will be able to compete for an extra major prize beyond the usual Slams and Masters events in 2021, with the Tokyo Olympics rescheduled for next July and August.
Murray has won Gold in the two previous Games in Rio and London and is targeting another medal in Japan.
‘It will be very important,’ added Murray. ‘Obviously as of right now, I wouldn’t get into the Olympics so I would have to ask for a wildcard, which I know there’s a few people out there that think I shouldn’t be getting any more.
‘I’ll have to wait and see what happens with that but I would love to compete in the Olympics again, to get another opportunity to do that would be huge for me. It would be in the top few priorities for the year.
‘Obviously I’d love to get the opportunity to play at Wimbledon again, same with the Aussie Open, and then, if I’m fit and well, I’d be pumped to go and try and win another medal in Tokyo.’
Mats Wilander, the seven-time Grand Slam champion from Sweden, is the most outspoken of the ‘few people’ questioning Murray receiving wildcards.
After Murray’s thrashing at the hands of Wawrinka, Wilander fumed: ‘I think Andy Murray needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking about who he was. Does he have a right to be out there taking wildcards from the young players?’
Murray, who will be almost guaranteed a wildcard for the Olympics as long as he’s in the top-300 of the rankings on June 7th, 2021, responded to his comments at the time on Instagram with a thumbs up emoji accompanied by the words: ‘Love this.’
And he admitted it will ‘help’ him find extra motivation as he looks to build himself up physically for the new season.
‘I think anything like that it gives short-term motivation, it helps,’ said Murray.
‘I don’t think longer term, like in a month’s time, that’s necessarily something that I will be thinking about but off the back of the French Open and kind of how I was feeling physically since the US Open, I properly went and had a think about things and did some testing and stuff.
‘I did an interview a couple of days ago with Daniela Hantuchova and she was asking me what was still motivating me, why do you want to get back in shape, and it was something as simple as I got on this body fat percentage scale thing, and the readout that I got from that I wasn’t happy with it.
‘And a little thing like that, I was like, right, I can get myself in much better shape than I’m in just now. I’ve worked hard to get to this point but I can do better. I could make sure I’m eating better, I can make sure I’m stronger in the gym, and I guess with an extended off season, it’s going to allow me to do that.
‘Usually when it’s only four or five weeks long, that can be tricky to make big gains in that time. But if it’s, for me, going to be potentially 10-12 weeks, that’s the length of time a boxer would have to train for a big fight and you can get yourself in great shape in that time.
‘So that’s what I’m working towards and that’s something that off the back of the French Open and then having some testing done that I wasn’t particularly happy with, that was kind of enough to just change my mentality enough and just focus on what’s really important, what I can do to get back to where I want to get to.’
How the start of next season will look remains unclear.
Australian Open organisers are still negotiating with government officials in the country over quarantine measures – there’s hope players will be allowed to practise on court during the two-week period – but have seen plans to bring players to the country in mid-December pushed back to the end of the month.
With qualifying for the first Slam of the year due to start on January 14, it has forced a potential rethink on whether the event should go ahead as planned or be pushed back.
While Murray would ‘go, for sure’ even if there were no warm-up tournaments – unless he had to go straight from a hotel room with no practise straight into best-of-five sets tennis – he thinks the ‘best solution’ is for a slight postponement.
‘Who knows what’s going to happen? Kind of been getting mixed messages,’ said Murray. ‘Stuff’s been changing every day, so it’s obviously difficult to know what the situation is going to be in a month’s time. It’s obviously tricky for the players.
‘Originally, we planned to go on the 12th or the 13th of December to arrive around the 15th. Then that changed and the kind of latest I’ve heard is that they’ve planned to push it back a couple of weeks, not right up until Indian Wells/Miami time, which is what I think has been suggested by some people.
‘I don’t think that would work for the sport. They’re two huge tournaments in March. I think that would be the best case scenario now if they [put] it back a couple of weeks.
‘That would allow the players to get over there at the beginning of January and prepare properly for the event. I’ll go as soon as I can.’
By the time Indian Wells and Miami come around, it’s possible that a vaccine will be widely available.
But should tennis be insisting on players to be vaccinated in order to be allowed to compete at tournaments?
‘Good question. Yeah, I think probably should be the case,’ replied Murray. ‘I would hope that all the players would be willing to do that for the good of the sport – providing everything has proved to be safe, clinical trials and everything have been done and there are not any significant side effects.
‘I guess we’re not going to know the long-term effects potentially for a while. But, from what I’ve been hearing on the TV and on the news, is that there shouldn’t really be any long-term effects. So I would hope, providing all the clinical trials and everything have been done, that the players would all be willing to do that.’
Whether it would be that straightforward is questionable.
Murray’s great rival Novak Djokovic is among those who has made his reservations public.
Djokovic said in an interview with the New York Times last year: ‘My issue here with vaccines is if someone is forcing me to put something in my body. That I don’t want. For me that’s unacceptable.’
‘Yeah, I guess it would be difficult,’ added Murray. ‘So I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the ATP and the ITF decide what their position is going to be on that. But I’m confident that players would be into it if it meant the Tour going back to normality.’
It’s far from the only problem facing the ATP Tour at this moment in time.
Alexander Zverev, the world No. 7 from Germany, faces serious allegations of domestic abuse from his former girlfriend Olga Sharypova.
After knocking Zverev out of the season-ending ATP Finals at the O2 last week, Djokovic called for the governing body of men’s tennis to adopt an explicit domestic abuse policy – something Murray is on board with.
And he called on the organisation to be more ‘proactive’ in future after failing to release a statement until more than a fortnight after her allegations first surfaced.
‘Obviously I don’t think they actually came out and said anything for… well I don’t know how long it was/.. but it certainly was not immediate,’ said Murray.
‘It was over a week after it came out. I have read some stuff, and obviously tennis doesn’t have a domestic abuse policy so that is obviously something we as a sport should be looking into.
‘So that the ATP know what to do in that situation, rather than having to think and react to it.
‘They can be a bit more proactive in a situation like that. Obviously need to take it extremely seriously and see what comes of it in the coming months.’
Andy Murray wears AMC, a premium tennis clothing brand, created and designed by Andy and Castore.
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