Mighty Murray: Can the top Scot add a new chapter to remarkable Melbourne history?

Andy Murray is on the right side of 35 (he’s just seven days older than Novak Djokovic), has drunk from the grand slam well three times, and has been at the top of the rankings tree. Right now the men’s game is arguably in a state of transition, so the circumstances prompt the question: could the top Scot step in and snag another major title?

Murray, something of an elder statesman in tennis, freely answers the question. His big breakthrough came at the US Open 10 years ago, two Wimbledon titles have followed, but, what about a fourth major title? How does the player himself actually define his chances?

“I would say that it’s a dream,” Murray said, with an important addition: “I would say that it’s highly unlikely that that’s going to happen.”

Wins over tough, highly credentialed opponents are coming sporadically. Last year he memorably pushed star Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas to five sets in the US Open first round.

But for the two-time Olympic singles gold medallist, just being up and about on the pro tour after a debilitating hip injury threatened his career is something for Murray to savour.

“I still believe that, you know, that I can win against the top players,” the 34-year-old told The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

Veteran Andy Murray in action in Sydney this week.Credit:Getty Images

“Since I came back from the hip operation I’d played [Alexander] Zverev a couple of times, had tight matches with him. I beat him once, lost to him once.”

The Australian summer is the backdrop to so many significant career moments for Murray – good and bad. He returns for first time in three years and is playing the Sydney Classic for the first time before he heads to the Australian Open, thanks to a wildcard from Tennis Australia.

It’s one year on from a COVID-19 positive test that killed a trip Down Under. Most memorably, it’s three years since, at the height of his frustrations with his hip injury, he tearfully admitted that that year’s Open might be his last tournament.

‘It’s a tournament that – I know nothing is deserved in sport – but I kind of feel like I deserve to win one of them. I played so well here over the years. It didn’t quite happen for me.’

Having landed in Australia and dodged some COVID-19 concerns after several players he joined at an exhibition event in the UAE last month caught the virus, Murray was entitled to take a quiet moment when he finally set foot in the Melbourne Park precinct once again.

“I took a video and sent it to my wife [Kim] when I arrived to walk on the practice court – a hit on Margaret Court was the first court I hit on when I got there,” Murray said.

“I’m really proud that I managed to get back here. I obviously appreciate that Tennis Australia chose to give me the opportunity to play again.

“I have so many amazing memories here. Some of them a little bit kind of bitter-sweet.”

Bitter-sweet is one way to put it. Agonising, frustrating, infuriating or despairing could be other descriptions. Murray is a five-time Australian Open runner-up, beaten on four occasions by friend and rival Djokovic, key moments in the Serbian’s catalogue as he built his “King of Melbourne Park” status.

Novak Djokovic after defeating Andy Murray in the 2013 men’s final of the Australian Open.Credit:Wayne Taylor

“It’s a tournament that – I know nothing is deserved in sport – but I kind of feel like I deserve to win one of them. I played so well here over the years. It didn’t quite happen for me,” reflected Murray.

“I love the Aussie summer. I’ve always loved coming to these events. It’s great to be back.”

Three years on from that emotional pre-tournament media conference, when Murray broke down and outlined just how hampered he was by the hip complaint, he can look at that time with a level of emotional detachment.

“Really I wasn’t there,” Murray said.

Murray was beaten in a five-setter by Roberto Bautista-Agut in the first round. Afterwards, the Australian Open effectively farewelled him with an on-court video tribute.

“You know I was really struggling and in a lot of pain and, you know, was kind of right at the end for me.

“It’s been a tough, tough road to get back here.”

Without specific high-level goals at the majors, Murray is entitled to lower his eyes and look at other things on his checklist in 2022.

Improving on his world No.135 ranking – a number not good enough for main-draw direct entry at the majors – however, is not one of those.

“I have some small goals, like short-term ones – like to get to 700 match wins [he was won 691 matches],” Murray said.

“I want to get myself in a position where I can have a run at one of the major events again.

“I’ve won I think 46 events on the tour. I have a goal to reach 50 – I don’t know whether that will happen or not, but there all the sort of things that are motivating to me and targets that I try and set with my team.

“Hopefully I can achieve a few of them this year.”

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