This is turning into a frustrating start to the year for Andy Murray.
Having opted to not start his 2021 season at the Delray Beach Open to “minimise risk” ahead of the Australian Open, Murray is now out of the Australian Open after no "workable quarantine" solution could be found following his positive Covid-19 test.
"We couldn’t make it work,” said Murray. “I'm devastated not to be playing out in Australia. It's a country and tournament that I love.”
'I blew it, I messed up' - Murray on defeat to Rublev in Rotterdam
The news means more frustration, and more time without tennis, for Murray. Both of which are nothing new over the last year.
He withdrew from last year’s Australian Open because of a pelvic injury that was sustained a few weeks after winning his first title in three years. He then delayed his comeback further – missing tournaments in and Rotterdam – and didn’t play again before the Covid-19 pandemic struck.
Once the tour resumed he returned at the Western & Southern Open and showed promising signs in winning matches against Frances Tiafoe and Alexander Zverev. After that there weren’t too many more positives as he lost in the second round of the US Open, first round at Roland Garros and first round in Cologne, all without winning a set. He then withdrew from another event in Cologne due to injury before shutting down his season, with an admission that he was not in his best condition.
- 'Devastated' Murray out of Australian Open
- Australian Open 2021: Who's in? Who's out?
- Becker defends 'absolutely right' Djokovic
“I’d been working fairly hard but I could have done much better. I could have been eating healthier and sleeping better.”
But the new year looked as though it brought with it fresh optimism for Murray, who is now ranked 123 in the world. He performed well at the Battle of the Brits in late December – beating British No 1 Dan Evans and Cameron Norrie – and sounded like he had been putting in hard work over the winter.
“I’ve been doing tons of work in the gym and trying to build towards beating all of my personal bests in the gym. I’m really motivated to do that,” he told the Evening Standard.
“The only thing that I maybe won’t get to the same level is the speed but I’m hoping that by improving my strength and my power that will help me get a little bit faster on the court. There’s no reason why with everything else I can’t get back to what it was before. And that wasn’t the case probably in the last year, really. So, I feel good. I’ve worked hard to get to this point but I can do better.”
Now it's a question of when Murray will get the chance to showcase his improvements.
He has high expectations for this year as he aims to play at Wimbledon for the first time since 2017 and also hopes to win gold at a third successive Olympic Games.
Francesca Jones: Proving doubters wrong and reaching Australian Open
But he needs more time on court playing competitive matches. He didn’t get that in 2020 - managing only seven matches due to injury and the pandemic - and this latest setback means he will have to wait longer before he can get it in 2021.
The later it got the less likely it was that Murray would travel to Australia, given the length of the trip, the potential for a two-week quarantine and then maybe not being able to play any warm-up matches before the Australian Open. And the good news is there are tournaments close to home where he could soon start his season, with Montpellier on February 22 and Rotterdam on March 1.
In an ideal world Murray would probably play both, but there's nothing ideal about things at the moment and the uncertainty over this year’s calendar means there's more potential for disruption. Even the Grand Slams, of which Murray has played just four in the last three years, are not guaranteed to be played in their current slots.
Andy Murray kann nicht zu den Australian Open reisen
Image credit: Getty Images
The hope is that he can maintain his motivation and training and come back at full fitness. If does that then at 33 he does still have to time to get back to near the top again. Stan Wawrinka has shown it is both possible and does take time, having needed around two years to get back to a strong level after undergoing knee surgery in 2017.
Murray’s former coach Dani Vallverdu, who now coaches Wawrinka, said in December that he thinks 2021 could be a good year for the Brit.
“I wouldn't be surprised if Andy has some very good results next year. What they're going to be is difficult to say but I do believe that he if he manages to keep his body fit, he will be competitive against the top guys and in the big events as well.
“I would never write him off."
Highlights: Murray comes up short against Rublev in Rotterdam
'I wasn't good enough' - Murray after Rublev defeat in Rotterdam