If one was to rank all the summers in Andy Murray's glittering career, the summer of 2021 would probably sit somewhere near the bottom. In the last two months Murray has played six tournaments, won six matches, and only once made it past the second round. Hardly a golden summer to rival those in 2012 or 2013. Yet at this stage of his career, could it be one of Murray's more satisfying summers?
Over the last year Murray has spoken often about the frustrations of various setbacks and needing time on the court to test himself against the best players in the world. He has now got that. Murray, 34, played three back-to-back tournaments in August, the first time he has done that since October 2019, and managed to do the same again by competing at the San Diego Open this week. He will also play for a fourth successive week after accepting a wildcard for the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Murray has been on court more than at any other time over the last couple of years, and there are signs that it is benefitting him.
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The results alone have been a mixed bag. He’s beaten world no 26 Ugo Humbert and world no 53 Richard Gasquet, and also came agonisingly close to beating world no 3 Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round of the US Open. But there was also a straight-sets defeat to world no 51 Frances Tiafoe, and most surprisingly a three-set loss to world no 158 Roman Safiullin at an ATP Challenger event in Rennes. The most encouraging week was at the Moselle Open when Murray, who is recovering from hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019, as well as several other injury issues, beat Humbert and Vasek Pospisil to reach his first ATP quarter-final in two years.
“My body feels good and I'm starting to gain just a little bit of confidence with each match,” Murray said after his win over Pospisil.
I'm starting to see the points and how I want to play them again, which is great.
"There have been times in the past year where I've been a little bit confused and not seeing how the points are developing and stuff, which for me was always a strong part of my game and it made me feel quite uncomfortable on the court when I was feeling that way. I'm starting to get that back and the results are coming and my tennis is getting better."
Murray seems more positive than he did after losing in straight sets to Denis Shapovalov at Wimbledon, when he said it was “extremely frustrating” that he couldn’t play at a higher level. He also said that he hoped consistency would come if he could “stay on the court” for the next four months.
So, has Murray shown that much improvement over the summer?
After losing to Tiafoe in mid-August he said that he thought his level was “around 50 or 60 in the world”, but recent results have perhaps outperformed that estimation. Murray has been highly competitive in defeats to world no 12 Hubert Hurkacz, spurning two-set points in their meeting at the Western & Southern Open and pushing him close again in Metz. Murray also produced a battling display against world no 10 Casper Ruud at the San Diego Open, although his serve let him down as he won just 51 per cent of his service points and was broken five times.
Hurkacz and Ruud have been two of the form players on tour this season and there is no disgrace in Murray losing to either. But there's a sense that he is still searching for a statement result. Murray has just two top-20 wins since the start of 2019 - Alexander Zverev in Cincinnati in 2020 and Matteo Berrettini in Beijing in 2019 – and has otherwise come up short against the best in the world. It’s a fact Murray acknowledged after easing past world no 94 Denis Kudla in the opening round in San Diego.
“The US Open was sort of the start of where I played a bit better and I just need to start beating some higher-ranked players. I’ve had opportunities in those matches against the top players I've played. I think I can beat them. I just need to start converting some of my opportunities against them.”

Murray cruises past Kudla to reach second round in San Diego

It feels like Murray is 80-90 per cent of the way there. He has been steadfast in his opinion that he can still compete with top-ranked players; a belief that has been strengthened by practising with the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer this season. His performance against Tsitsipas at the US Open was a firm indicator that there is still more to come in his career, yet Murray left New York “really disappointed” because he couldn’t close out the win.
Will Indian Wells be the tournament when Murray makes the breakthrough? It’s one of two Masters events, along with Monte Carlo, that Murray has never won, and his 68 per cent win-rate there is lower than at any other hard-court Masters. First and foremost he will be hoping to avoid the kind of tough draw that he got at the US Open, although given he is still ranked 109 in the world that will be a toss-up. While world no 1 Djokovic will not be playing the tournament, the rest of the men’s field is still strong and there will be plenty of players looking to snap up the ranking points on offer from the penultimate Masters event of the season.
For Murray it’s another chance to show that he can still do this. He spoke recently about wanting to build up “robustness” and how he is motivated by winning tournaments and getting back to the “top of the rankings”.
It feels a long way from last summer when there were questions about Murray’s future and whether he could still compete with the best players in the world. Murray has proved that he can compete with the best over the last two months, now he just needs the added consistency and belief that he can beat the best.
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