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The return Down Under
by Samuel Lovett December 29, 2017
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Another day, another question raised over the physical well-being of Andy Murray. Having initially set his sights on a return to action at the Brisbane Open on January 1, the former World No 1’s participation in the event now appears in doubt.

Murray and his team had originally intended to travel to Australia in good time before Christmas to acclimatise to the country’s demanding conditions and, in doing so, bolster his chances of competing at the Australian Open.

“My plan is to do a couple of weeks in Miami and then go to Australia very early, much earlier than I have done in the past,” he said six weeks ago. “If I can go there a little bit earlier to get used to the conditions, a bit sooner than some of the other players, that might help level it up a little bit for me.” But such plans have failed to materialise, with the Scot understood to still be in the UK after returning to London from Miami last week.

The crux of his struggles, a persistent hip injury that has plagued him for a number of years now, is clearly taking its toll on a player battling to keep the effects of Father Time at bay. Indeed, the 30-year-old’s off-season preparations were far from plain-sailing due to the discomfort he is still experiencing in his right hip. In all, it’s said the trip to southern Florida was not considered much of a success.

The full extent of Murray’s injury woes were laid bare to the public at Wimbledon earlier this year where, after the glorious highs of 2016, he toiled his way to the last four before being knocked out by America’s Sam Querry. His subsequent attempts to compete at the US Open, the final grand slam of the year, were misjudged — something he later went on to admit.

Since then, Murray has kept a low profile. A singular on-court appearance came at an exhibition match against Roger Federer in Glasgow where the player’s legion of fans will have looked for some faint signs of progress. Although he appeared increasingly mobile as the match progressed, there was little doubt that the British No 1, who carried a limp at the event, was far from full fitness.

A notoriously resilient individual, the 30-year-old’s propensity for fighting to the bitter end means he remains fully committed to his recovery programme. After all, this is a player who overcame spinal surgery to win the Davis Cup, an Olympic gold medal and a second Wimbledon title. But, having suffered what appears to be yet another setback, it’s unclear how many of his nine lives he has left.

Surgery could maybe offer a late, and brief, second bite of the cherry but the Briton instead prefers the route of rehabilitation. Depending on how his spell in Australia pans out, surgery is an option he could yet consider as he attempts to revitalise his career in the way both Rafa Nadal and Federer did during the 2017 season.

Murray appears fixed on making his return Down Under but, in light of recent developments, is it the right decision? Should the player be unable to compete at Brisbane, he has the option of the Sydney International which kicks off a week later.  The Australian Open, which begins on the 15th, is of course the main objective but can Murray afford to enter into such a tournament having not competed since mid-July of this year? To do so would be risky, and even reckless, given everything at stake with an already physically fragile player.

Federer, a man who knows a thing or two about defying the odds, has urged Murray to be patient. “Take your time, however long it takes,” he said in Glasgow last month. Further delaying his return could be the answer, regardless of how disheartening it would be. Federer and Nadal bear testament to the old adage that says time is the best cure. 

But there’s equally a sense time could be running out for Britain’s most successful male player. Many will feel he has already passed his best and is now fruitlessly attempting to wind back the clock. Whatever decision Murray makes, it’s likely to shape the rest of his career — however long that may now last.

The Independent

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