Andy Murray has spoken for the first time about his revised career expectations, having spent almost six months off the tour because of a chronic hip injury.
Next week in Brisbane, Murray is due to play his first ATP event since Wimbledon. But in his arrival press conference in Australia today, he admitted that he may not be able to compete for the top honours in the way he used to.
“I just want to be able to play tennis,” Murray said. “I don't mind if it's 30 in the world level. I would love it to be No 1 in the world level, but yeah, I just want to play. When that's taken away from you, you realise how important it is.
“I want to get back to playing my best tennis and winning the biggest tournaments. But if I don't, I'm okay with that. I just want to keep playing.
“On a day-to-day basis, it's difficult to tell exactly what my level is, when you've had such high expectations for quite a long time.
“When I have a few bad days, I might feel like I'm playing really poorly, but I might still be good enough to beat top 30, top 40 in the world, which is still a really, really high level... I'll see when I get back on the match court.”
Murray’s was clearly restricted by his hip in the last match he played – a quarter-final exit from Wimbledon at the hands of Sam Querrey. He took extensive medical advice from a variety of specialists, but decided that surgery was not the best way to treat the condition.
Since then, he made an attempt to get himself ready for the US Open, only to have to withdraw less than 48 hours before the first ball was hit. But he emphasised this morning that he will play in Brisbane, barring some unexpected set-back in the next three or four days.
“My hip feels way better than it did at Wimbledon and way better than it did at the US Open,” Murray said. “At Wimbledon, I almost made the semi-finals and I was really struggling badly. So if it's better than that then that's positive.
“But playing the matches and getting used to that intensity again and how you recover from a match is kind of what is important. And I'm hoping I'm going to be okay, but you never know for sure until you go through it.”
In a single-set exhibition match in Abu Dhabi on Friday, Murray started slowly against Roberto Bautista Agut – the world No 20 – but gathered confidence until he was competing on a reasonably even level by the end of his 6-2 defeat. It was worrying, though, to see how heavily he was limping between points.
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That was more of a serious test than Murray’s exhibition match against Roger Federer in Glasgow in November, where Federer clearly did his best to make the going easy for his old rival. Even so, Murray implied today that his recovery from Abu Dhabi had been considerably less painful than the aftermath of his Scottish outing.
“The thing that's difficult with a long rehab is that it not just like a progression [where] you just get better and better,” Murray said. “There's days when you start moving again after taking a period off and maybe your hip hurts and you feel slow.
“Even in the exhibition with Roger, I had hardly played at all up until that point. I was sore afterwards, and I think, ‘Oh, God, that was just an exhibition match, and it was not pushing unbelievably hard.’
“So it's tricky. But I have worked really hard. I've spent lots of time rehabbing. I've done everything that's been asked of me from my physio and my physical trainer, to give myself the best chance possible for the new year.
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“I need to get on the match court now. You can't just be rehabbing for ten months - unless you've had surgery and you've been told it's that long. If you're not going to have surgery, there comes a point where you need to get back to competing again and see how you actually are doing.”
Finally, Murray acknowledged that he is likely to play fewer tournaments this season in an effort not to aggravate his chronic condition further.
“I'll probably make some changes to my schedule this year,” he said. “I'll certainly play less than I have in the past to give my body time to rest and recover.
“At the end of the day, health is the most important thing. Most of the players on the tour love playing tennis. When you miss a period, you realise how lucky you are to be doing this as a job. “So I would want to play as long as I could physically do it, and I think most of the players would feel the same way. And giving yourself breaks, especially as you start to get older, is very important and something that I'll certainly be looking to do for however long I keep playing.”