The last time Andy Murray competed in singles at a Grand Slam was at last year’s Australian Open, where a lot of the talk revolved around the former World No. 1 potentially retiring. The Brit says he hasn’t played in a major without worrying about his body since 2017 Roland Garros.
That makes next week’s US Open even more exciting for the 33-year-old, who has had two hip surgeries over the past two years.
“I’m not as quick probably as I was before, but I’m able to go out there and compete and focus on the tennis. Hopefully [I will] be able to last a five-set match without my performance seriously deteriorating as it goes on,” Murray said. “It’s been tough to get to this point, a lot of hard work, lots of ups and downs. But I made it back.”
Murray has enjoyed success at the American Grand Slam, triumphing in Flushing Meadows in 2012. When he last competed at the US Open, in 2018, he wasn’t healthy. But after advancing to the third round of this week’s Western & Southern Open, he believes he doesn’t need to think about his body.
“In the matches I played… I felt pretty good on the court in terms of my body,” Murray said. “The matches were still difficult and stressful, [but it was] still enjoyable to be out there competing because my body was actually feeling okay. Hopefully that will be the case again next week.”
It’s been an emotional journey for Murray, who tried not to think about his hip being metal and all he went through to get back on court.
“Physically right now I feel pretty good, so I’m really happy about that because it’s allowing me to practise and prepare properly, enjoy my time on the court basically,” Murray said. “I think mentally it’s going to be difficult for the players. Obviously Novak won the tournament this week. There’s people saying that some of the players will find it challenging playing without fans.”
There are no fans allowed at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Murray believes a key for success at the season’s second Grand Slam will be maintaining focus.
“It is difficult, but the level of tennis is what’s important. If you can sort of block all of the weirdness of playing without a crowd on big stadiums [that will be key],” Murray said. “I actually felt okay doing that last week. It didn’t feel too bad in the matches. It will be tricky.”
Murray plays his first-round match inside Arthur Ashe Stadium on Tuesday against Yoshihito Nishioka. Normally, there would be about 23,000 people in the stands.
“I played in some of the best atmospheres that I’ve ever played in tennis on that court. To go out there in such a huge stadium and have literally no one in the stands is going to be weird,” Murray said. “I know that’s going to be the case, so at least I can prepare for it mentally.”
One thing Murray noted is how “sad” it has been walking back to the locker room after practice. Normally, he’d be mobbed by adoring fans seeking an autograph or selfie. During this stretch, all he has seen are tennis players and their team members “walking around with masks on”.
“[Fans] give life to the tournaments and everything. They give life to your matches and your practices. Sometimes it can be a bit hectic, as well,” Murray said. “On the whole, I’d way rather this place was filled with people that are excited to come and watch tennis. I miss that.”
The 46-time tour-level titlist is “pumped” nonetheless. He showed form last week by beating 2018 Nitto ATP Finals champion Alexander Zverev. Now, Murray will try to maintain his momentum.
“It’s different,” Murray said. “But I’m just looking forward to getting to compete in a Slam again.”