Andy Murray knows a thing or two about big summers.
He’s had summers filled with silverware, summers tinged with heartache and near-misses, and, in recent years, summers without much tennis at all. This summer promises to be something else.
Murray has only played three ATP Tour matches this season. He’s got one tour win to his name since last August and has been frustrated by consistent setbacks – from a lingering pelvic problem that ended his season early in 2020 to a positive Covid-19 test that ruled him out of the Australian Open in January and then a "freak" groin problem that saw him withdraw from the Miami Open on the eve of the tournament.
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Murray, who recently turned 34, has admitted his annoyance at the sequence of events that have prevented him from playing as much top-level tennis as he would like.
"Just give me a break," was his plea after Miami. "I really just want to be on the court competing."
For now, Murray looks as though he is going to get that chance over the summer.
After opting to skip the French Open – a decision not taken by either Roger Federer or Serena Williams as they also look to rediscover form and fitness – Murray will play at the Nottingham Open. The ATP Challenger event will be held at the Nottingham Tennis Centre from June 5-13, running alongside the second week of the French Open. He’s then set to play at Queen’s from June 14 before making his first appearance at Wimbledon since 2017.
It’s a schedule that promises plenty. By skipping the end of the clay swing Murray will have the chance to prepare properly for the grass season. If he’s fully healthy he should be in as good a position as he has been a while to get what he desires at this stage of his career – "a run of tournaments and competitive matches to see whether my body is capable of doing it". The last time Murray strung a run of tournaments and matches together was the last time he won a title in October 2019. While another tournament win looks a long way off at the moment, Murray's summer plan looks like the perfect platform to build from for the rest of the season.
But what if things go awry again and the body doesn’t play ball?
Murray has undergone two hip operations over the last few years and has spoken about the difficulties he has faced trying to get back to his best.
"When I had the operation on the hip I knew it was going to be unbelievably challenging," he said this month.
"It just feels there are a couple of things that have happened this year which have been very unfortunate, that have been hard to take. But I didn't expect it to be easy. I'm trying to do something that has not been done before.”
There’s also the question of motivation. Murray revealed recently that he doesn’t "enjoy" tennis as much as he did a few years ago. And having to go through rehab on a semi-regular basis is clearly not a process that he is enjoying any more.
"I can’t be bothered doing another eight or 10 weeks of rehab,” he said after withdrawing from Miami.
The reason I am doing all of that stuff is to get back on the court and compete. It’s hard work and now I am finding it harder to get motivated to do all the rehab and everything if I’m not going to be able to compete in the biggest events.
This summer feels like it could be a defining one for Murray. If he manages to play all three grass tournaments and gets some wins then it might put an extra spring back into his step and give him some added motivation if he does have to go through a spell of rehab again. If things don’t go well and he suffers another setback then there’s a chance he might consider his next move.
Watch Murray and Djokovic train together in Rome
World No 1 Novak Djokovic gave an encouraging assessment of Murray’s prospects after the pair trained together at the Italian Open last week. Djokovic said he thought Murray "played very well on the court" and "seems like he’s been feeling well". But Murray is still facing a problem that Federer and Williams are now encountering as they prepare for the grass swing: getting court time.
"I need to try and find a way of staying on the match court for longer," said Murray in Rome. "It has been extremely frustrating."
Hopefully the summer will be frustration-free for Murray and will give him a chance to find out where exactly he is on the long road back to the top.
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