Less than two months after telling the world that he had been planning to finish his career at Wimbledon this summer, Andy Murray is contemplating the possibility of playing at the All England Club in four months’ time - as part of a comeback to top-flight competition.
“If I could play at Wimbledon, I would love to,” Murray said on Wednesday at Queen’s Club in London on his first public appearance since undergoing a second operation on his right hip five weeks ago.
Murray said it was “possible” that he would play at Wimbledon, though he stressed: “I don’t want a definitive time to try to rush back. This is a big operation that I’ve had. I need to be smart with that and see how it progresses. So far, it’s been good. The main reason for me having the operation was to not be in pain any more - and I’m not. I’m delighted with that.”
The former world No 1 opted for surgery after the Australian Open, where he had broken down in tears at a pre-tournament press conference, saying he needed to reach an “end point” to the physical pain he had been suffering for 18 months.
His “resurfacing” operation – which involves a metal ball-and-socket joint being fitted into the hip – was carried out at the Princess Grace Hospital in Marylebone by Sarah Muirhead-Allwood, a consultant orthopaedic surgeon and one of the world’s leading hip specialists.
“On Monday I had my five-week check-up,” Murray said. “After two weeks I was still on crutches and not really walking. Now I am walking crutch-free. I had the X-ray two days ago to make sure the prosthesis had not moved in that time, which it hadn't. She seemed very happy where I was at."
Bob Bryan, the American doubles player, had a similar operation last summer and is back playing. Might Murray consider returning initially as a doubles player? “It’s a possibility,” he said. “If I’m not ready to play singles it might be a way of testing myself out to see how I’m feeling. It’s not something I would do long-term, but it’s a possible stepping stone to getting back to playing singles again.”
Murray pointed out that no tennis player had returned to singles competition after having the operation. He also said that the surgery had not been presented as an option when he first suffered his hip injury two summers ago. He had a keyhole operation last January but was still in pain when he started his comeback in the summer.
“That’s why I ended up having the [second] surgery, to get rid of pain, not to start playing tennis again,” Murray said. “But that’s what I love doing. Bob Bryan has come back and is doing well, but that’s doubles and there is a huge difference [with singles] in terms of the loads you put on the body and the stresses you put on the joints. It’s not quite the same, but it shows that there is a level that you can get to. It’s just whether or not I can do better than that.”
He denied that he was feeling any differently now about his future compared with two months ago. “I said [in Australia] that I needed an end point to the pain,” he said. “The end point was not necessarily to stop my career. Throughout the whole process I always wanted to continue playing, but I didn’t want to be in pain any more."
Murray was talking at the announcement of his partnership with the Castore sportswear brand. He is to become a shareholder in the British company, which was founded in 2015 by the brothers Tom and Phil Beahon, and will join the company’s board as an advisor.
The Scot is already working hard on his rehabilitation. “Yesterday, for example, I did 45 minutes of my physio, I then did an hour in the swimming pool and weights for an hour, with 15 to 20 minutes of cardio on a bike and the cross-trainer,” he said.
“I’ve got one of those AlterG machines at my house to help with my walking. I’ve been limping for 18 months. Even now when I walk, even though I don’t have pain, my initial thought when I stand up will be to limp, so I need to work on that all the time.
“I’m doing 40 minutes of walking each day on this machine, which allows you to adjust your body weight, so I’m walking at 85 to 90 per cent of my body weight now, which is good. I’m walking quite well with that.
“Then I went back and did half hour in the pool and some more exercises for about 45 minutes or so to try to work on my range of motion. That’s the thing that’s hardest to get back if you leave that at the beginning and don’t take care of that.”
Murray plans to start hitting balls again, from a stationary position, in about four weeks’ time. He expects to have a clearer idea about a possible return to competition by the beginning of June.
“That's when I could start doing high-impact activity,” he said. “I just have to be patient to wait for the time when I'm allowed to go and try and run on a tennis court. Then I'll have an idea.
“Because I have lots of tests from over the years in terms of my speed and strength and things, I can look back at that and go: ‘I am way slower than I was before.’ If I am much slower than I was, let's say, in Australia, I am not just going to go and play if I can’t move properly. I want to be able to run around like I used to.
“I will need to make a decision based on those things as well. If I am not in pain, but physically I am just not the same, or a long way from that, then that will also factor into it.”
After what he described as a “horrible” 18 months before and during his comeback, Murray said it was good simply to wake up in the morning without pain. He is already feeling much better mentally.
“I can go walk around the block with my kids,” he said. “The thought of doing that six weeks or two months ago was: ‘No, I can't do that because my hip hurts and then I have to train and play and that's also going to hurt.’
“Small things like that are fine for me to do. I have no restrictions in what I can and can’t do now. I’m not supposed to run for two and a half or three months, but in terms of going out and doing stuff, I have no restrictions now. I had big restrictions just on my life for a year or 18 months.”
Murray said his operation had taken more than twice as long as had been expected. “It was supposed to take 45 minutes but mine took longer because the bone was really strong,” he said. “It took a while to get the prosthesis into my bone.”
He said he had chosen Muirhead-Allwood, who carried out a hip replacement operation on the Duke of Edinburgh last year, because she had been honest with him.
“Over this period I've spoken to a lot of people, different specialists and surgeons,” he said. “They told me things were going to turn out better than what they did. I felt that she told me the truth. She said: ‘There are absolutely no guarantees that you’ll get back to playing. You just have to see how it goes.’
“I didn't want to be told: ‘You’re going to come back and win Wimbledon in five months and it’s going to be perfect.’ I know that’s not the case and nobody in their right mind could promise me that, because it's not been done before.”
He added: “She didn't say to me: ‘Never try and play again.’ It was: ‘Just be realistic. This might not work out. But what I can guarantee you is your pain will be gone.’ And that's happened.”
Murray said that he was not attempting to prove a point to anyone. “It's just that tennis is something I love doing,” he said. “If my hip allows me to do that - without pain - and I can still enjoy it, then I'd like to try. But if I can't, then I can't - and I'll just be happy I'm not in pain every day.”
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