Andy Murray and Chris Froome are two of the greatest competitors in their respective sports. And they are not done fighting. Both have made it clear that they retain lofty ambitions for the future.
For Froome, who is reportedly the highest paid rider in the world after his move to Israel Start-Up Nation, the Tour de France remains the ultimate prize. Froome has won four, but a fifth would raise his standing up another level. It would see him pull level with Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain. It would firm up his place as one of the greatest cyclists ever.
Murray has another Wimbledon in his sights, saying last week that he “genuinely” believes he can win the tournament for a third time. His two victories so far came in 2013 and 2016 while he has also won the US Open and two Olympic gold medals, but he has only managed one ATP Tour win this year, is ranked No 119 in the world and has pulled out of the Miami Open this week due to a groin problem.
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For Froome and Murray, it’s not just the prospect of lifting silverware this summer that keeps them going, but the journey they have taken to get there. Froome is coming back from career-threatening injuries in 2019 while Murray – ‘the most competitive guy you will ever see’, according to former British No 1 Greg Rusedski - is determined to get back to the top after twice undergoing hip surgery.
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But can they really win the biggest prizes in their respective sports again - at the ages of 35 (Froome) and 33 (Murray)?
They say yes. The evidence suggests it will be very difficult.
If Froome was to win the Tour de France this summer he would be the second-oldest winner of the race. That alone would be impressive, without taking into account Froome’s long road to recovery over the last two years and the fact that, after leaving Ineos Grenadiers at the end of 2020 to join Israel Start-Up Nation, he is now riding for a weaker team. It would be a comeback to rival the greatest in the sport, alongside Alejandro Valverde's remarkable return at the age of 37 after a broken kneecap and not far behind Greg LeMond winning the Tour de France in 1989 two years after he was shot.
Murray is also looking to return to the top of the sport from an almost unprecedented position. Players have achieved success after serious injuries – Monica Seles won the Australian Open after being stabbed on court, Petra Kvitova is winning titles after getting stabbed, and Thomas Muster had an excellent career after being hit by a drunk driver in 1989 and needing surgery. But Murray’s injury issues are lingering, and trying to build up match fitness during a pandemic is proving problematic. He has made the third round of one tournament in the last 15 months and has only managed to record one ATP Tour win this season. It was clear after his Miami Open withdrawal that there is a growing sense of frustration.
I really just want to be on the court competing. I can’t be bothered doing another eight or 10 weeks of rehab…It is a bit demoralising. It’s gutting.
Murray is clearly keen to test himself against the best and see if he can still cut it. At his last outing in Rotterdam he showed glimpses against world No 8 Andrey Rublev, but right now – maybe due to his lack of match fitness - it’s hard to see him turning those glimpses into sustained high-level tennis over the next few months.
For both Murray and Froome there is the extra complication that the competition is very strong. Not only would Murray probably have to get past Novak Djokovic to win Wimbledon again, but there’s also Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas, Alexander Zverev, Rublev, Jannik Sinner; guys that he has hardly faced yet but who are looking to make their own mark on the game. Froome is in a similar position with Primoz Roglic potentially the most serious threat at the Tour de France and then an exciting group of younger riders led by defending champion Tadej Pogacar and Ineos Grenadiers’ Egan Bernal.
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Froome’s team have said that his "strength and balance" are better than before his crash, but he needs to continue to work on his fitness, as shown at the Volta a Cataluyna this week. But French legend Hinault does not expect Froome to join him on five Tour de France wins. "I don't see any reason for hope," he said this week.
The big challenge for both is getting back to peak fitness. That appears a simpler challenge for Froome – continue to ride more races and he should continue to build up his fitness. For Murray it’s a bit more challenging, as the last few months have shown. He missed the Australian Open as he couldn’t travel following a positive Covid-19 test, played two matches in Rotterdam, didn’t travel to Dubai after his wife gave birth to their fourth child, and was forced out of Miami this week due to a groin injury. It seems likely that he now won’t play a competitive tournament for several weeks - and how many matches will he be able to play before the grass season?
Despite the obvious challenges it would be folly to write Froome and Murray off completely. Both clearly still have the desire and have shown more than enough fight in the past to suggest they will do everything they can to improve their chances of getting back to their best. Murray still has time – although whether he has time to win again this summer is doubtful – while it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Froome could peak for three weeks at the Tour de France.
The odds are against them though. That might not have always mattered for Murray and Froome, but it still looks a long way back for both.
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