Andy Murray is delighted to be returning to Grand Slam competition after a break of nearly 14 months but the former world No 1 admitted that he would be going into next week’s US Open in a different frame of mind.
Unseeded at a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in 12 years following his comeback after hip surgery, Murray will be in the unusual position of going into one of the sport’s biggest events knowing his chances of victory are almost negligible.
“For the last 10 or 11 years of my life I’ve dedicated all of my training and my off-seasons to preparing to perform well in these events,” Murray said here on Friday. “Missing them is hard and coming back to them is great.
“This one feels slightly different, because for the last 10 years or so I’ve been coming and trying to prepare to win the event, whereas I don’t feel like that’s realistic for me this year. It’s a slightly different mentality for me coming in than what I have had the last 10, 11 years of my life. That feels a bit odd.”
Murray, who will play his opening match against Australia’s James Duckworth on Monday, last played in a Grand Slam tournament at Wimbledon last summer. He tried to come back here last year but pulled out of the tournament less than 48 hours before it was due to start.
After pulling out of the Australian Open in January he then had hip surgery. Although he made his comeback during the grass-court season in June he pulled out of Wimbledon less than 24 hours before the start of play at the All England Club.
Murray has played in two tournaments on the north American hard-court circuit this summer, but withdrew before his scheduled quarter-final in Washington because he had not had enough time to recover from his previous match and then lost first time out in Cincinnati last week.
Asked if he felt ready to play matches over the best of five sets here, Murray said: “I need to see. I haven’t played one, so you don’t know until you actually get out there and do it. That’s the thing.
“I played some long matches in Washington. They were all over two-and-a-half hours, and a three-hour match. Three of them in four days. The benefit of the Slams is having that day off to recover in between, which will help me.”
He added: “My expectation is to give my best effort in the matches. Hopefully if I do that, my tennis will get better. I’ll take each match at a time. It’s difficult to predict how you’re going to do and say how far you’re going to go in the event. My tennis is getting better all the time. I just need to be on the court more consistently through till the end of the year.”
After losing in Cincinnati Murray went to Philadelphia to train, focusing on gym work. “I was on the court every day, but the practices were quite light,” he said. “I got here and have practised here for a couple of hours each day with some of the players.
"It’s been good, but it’s been difficult. My tennis has been a bit stop-start. After Washington I took a few days off the court, then built back up again. Then obviously I did some light practising last week.
“My body feels better than it did a few weeks ago, so that’s positive. Just being around these players and practising with them more and more on a more consistent basis is going to help me improve.”
After being out of action for 11 months and then returning to competition during the grass-court season, Murray had grown used to living at home and being around his family, but he travelled without them when he left for the United States at the end of July. However, they rejoined him earlier this week.
“I hadn’t seen them for three or four weeks,” Murray said when asked about his two children. “Obviously they change a lot in that time, which is nice in some ways to see after a period because they’ve changed a bit, but also sad because maybe you’ve missed some stuff.
“The best part about being injured – or the only good part about being injured – was that I got to spend lots and lots of time with them growing up.”
This tournament has many happy memories for Murray. This was where he won his only junior Grand Slam title, reached his first Grand Slam final and won his first Grand Slam trophy.
“I’m happy that I’m able to be back competing again here,” he said. “It was tough missing it last year. I was pretty upset at the time. I’m really, really pleased to be back. I’ll try to enjoy it as much as I can.”
While Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and most recently Novak Djokovic have all added to their collections of Grand Slam titles after returning from long-term physical problems in the last two years, Murray pointed out that all injuries were different.
“Some are more serious than others,” he said. “Someone being out for a few weeks with a muscle injury is very different to somebody recovering from a surgery on certain parts of the body. It’s notoriously more difficult.
“I haven’t really looked at them so much as an inspiration for a comeback. I’m trying to deal with the situation that I’ve been in as best as I can myself.
“But I do feel that once my body is right again, which takes time when you haven’t played many matches in a year, I’m sure that my level will be OK to get me competing at the top of the game again.”
Murray thinks it may still be a while before some of the younger players are able to match the heights achieved by Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. “Right now I think the level of those guys – Roger, Rafa, Novak – is higher,” he said. “Once they’re fit and healthy, they’re always going to be competing for the biggest events.”
The Scot has been particularly active on social media in recent weeks, posting news of visits to places as different as a theme park and the United Nations.
“I want to make sure I make the most of the next few years because you never know exactly what’s around the corner,” he said. “Obviously 12 or 14 months ago I wouldn’t have anticipated what was about to happen, so I want to make the most of each week.”
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