“I’m playing well enough to be competitive at this level against all of the players. Maybe not quite consistent enough just now to beat maybe the top players. But, I think against guys that are No. 10 or No. 20 in the world, I can compete well against them just now…I think I can keep improving.”
That was Andy Murray speaking after his quarter-final run in Beijing last week. You can sense the optimism flowing through the usually deadpan Scot.
It’s incredible to think that this is the same player who admitted the following last January:
“…I spoke to my team and I told them I can’t keep doing this. That I needed to have an end point because I was just playing with no idea of when the pain was going to stop…I said to my team, Look, I think I can kind of get through this until Wimbledon, that’s where I would like to stop playing. But I’m also not certain I’m able to do that.”
In the space of nine months, Murray has transitioned from a forced retirement brought on by chronic hip pain to a fresh start thanks to the wonders of medicine.
Not long after his emotional five-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne, the former world no.1 decided to go under the knife one last time. Rather than follow the traditional route of Total Hip Replacement, Murray went for an innovative approach pioneered by Professor Derek McMinn.
Instead of replacing the entire ball joint of the hip, McMinn’s Birmingham Hip Resurfacing retains most of the bone and caps the ball joint and socket with metal.
This type of surgery enhances the patient’s mobility post-surgery and has been performed on numerous sportspeople over the years.
The most high-profile tennis player to undergo the procedure is doubles legend Bob Bryan. The American is already back winning titles after surgery in 2018.
Murray got his hip resurfaced in January and was able to return to doubles action just five months later. His first singles action followed in Cincinnati in August.
Results were understandably mixed at first, but Murray has always revelled in adversity.
After some early exits, things have picked up for the 32-year-old in Asia. Murray lost a tight match to Alex de Minaur in Zhuhai before notching a fine win over world no.13 Matteo Berrettini in Beijing. It took Dominic Thiem, the eventual champion and world no.5, to halt the Scot in the Chinese capital.
Confidence has only grown for Murray in Shanghai as he started the event with a come-from-behind win over world no.56 Juan Londero, before going out to the 12th ranked player in the world Fabio Fognini in an extremely tight one on Tuesday.
While he is still a distance from his peak form and ranking, the progress made in a few months is remarkable.
If Murray continues to build momentum, he could even be a threat in Melbourne come January. The vibe will certainly be different from the previous year, particularly if he’s competitive with the top players.
But, can Murray do the extraordinary and win another major with a resurfaced hip?
Probably not in the immediate future. When you consider the stranglehold the big three have on the majors, and how difficult it was for Murray to breakthrough during his peak seasons, the task looks overwhelming.
However, we’re approaching a transitional period on the men’s tour.
Will Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal maintain their level of major dominance in two years’ time? I’m not so sure. And there are also the ever-improving performances from US Open finalist Daniil Medvedev, Dominic Thiem and Stefanos Tsitsipas to consider.
If Murray can reach and sustain a top ten level of play through 2021, he could just find himself in the right place on a major Sunday.
However, he’d rather not see Novak Djokovic lingering on the other side of the net in this situation.
The world no.1 has beaten Murray 25 times over the years with five of those victories in major finals.
In the end, it may not be a resurfaced hip or time that prevents the Scot from major no.4. It might just be Djokovic who spoils the party yet again.