Andy Murray returns to the U.S. Open this year in a much different place.
For someone who won the Open in 2012, for someone who has twice won Wimbledon, for someone who has two Olympic gold medals, for someone who was once ranked No. 1 in the world, Murray this year is just happy to be playing again.
That’s because he wasn’t at the Open last year, and missed this year’s Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. He had a bum right hip, and after several months trying rehab, he had surgery in January. He has played sparingly since returning in June.
So what once were great expectations about playing in the U.S. Open have been tempered by the reality that he’s not in Grand Slam shape even if he’s keen to be a Grand Slam player again. The 31-year-old Scot is the 378th ranked player in the world, and he knows it.
“The last 10 or 11 years of my life I’ve dedicated all of my training and off-seasons and stuff to prepare to perform well in these events,” said Murray on Friday. “Missing them is hard, and also coming back to them is great.”
“It feels slightly different, this one, because for the last 10 years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win this event, whereas I don’t feel that’s realistic for me this year,” Murray said. “It’s a slightly different mentality for me . . . That feels a bit odd.”
John McEnroe ran into Murray earlier in the week.
“He more or less said the same thing to me, that it’s been a process, been tougher coming back,” said McEnroe. “In some way deflection takes away some of the pressure that he feels. You know that over in Great Britain there’s high expectations every time he steps on the court no matter how much time he’s missed. I think it’s understandable that he’s want to minimize the pressure . . . but I’ve seen some players who have sort of made similar type of comments and gone on to win Grand Slams.”
Murray’s comeback had been in fits and starts, a total of only seven matches. He played in June, but not well enough to make him think he could compete at Wimbledon, so he skipped it.
Then he played at the Citi Open in Washington, D.C. which turned out to be wet, hot, humid mess. His third-round match was absolute agony. He started play at midnight and finally beat Marius Copil in three sets at 3 a.m. He would sit utterly spent and sobbing in the locker room afterward, and he eventually pulled out of his quarterfinal match.
Oddly, it might be the sort of match that could prepare him for playing five-set Grand Slam tennis again, though at the time it was immensely frustrating and exhausting.
“It was an extremely long day, tough match that had a lot of ups and downs that I managed to come through,” said Murray. “It was just really emotional for lots and lots of different reasons.”
In Washington, as with all the regular tour events, Murray would have had to play the next day. At the Grand Slams, played over two weeks, the matches are every other day, and Murray is hoping that format will work to his advantage when he begins his Open against Australia’s James Duckworth Monday.
“The benefit of slams is having that day off to recover in between, which will help me,” Murray said.
It’s unlikely he can gain inspiration from Novak Djokovic’s victory at Wimbledon in July. Djokovic missed the U.S. Open last year with an elbow problem and he underwent surgery in early February. Roger Federer missed the Open in 2016 with knee surgery, then came back to win the Australian Open and Wimbledon in 2017.
“I haven’t really looked at them so much as an inspiration for a comeback,” said Murray. “I’m trying to deal with the situation as best as I can myself. But I do feel that once my body is right again, which takes time and I haven’t played many matches in a year, I’m sure that my level will be okay to get me competing at the top of the game again.”