Cast your mind back 18 months. Nobody was expecting Andy Murray to be back on a tennis court at all. Ever.

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He had tearfully exited the Australian Open, telling fans: "I’ll need to have a big operation, which there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from, but I’ll give it my best shot.”

A few days previously, he had revealed that his ongoing hip injury was causing him too much pain to function in everyday life, let alone to play tennis at the highest level.

"The pain is too much, really, and I don’t want to continue playing that way," he had confessed. "The pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training or any of the stuff I love about tennis."

Now, some gruelling surgery, some demanding rehabilitation, a fly-on-the-wall documentary, and a couple of doubles tournaments later, Murray is preparing for another Grand Slam.

The 33-year-old goes into the US Open after a decent week at the Western and Southern Open, where he beat world number seven Alexander Zverev, following a few matches at the LTA's Battle of the Brits events during lockdown.

Andy Murray plays a backhand as his coach Jamie Delgado watches during his singles semi final match against Dan Evans on day 5 of Schroders Battle of the Brits at the National Tennis Centre on June 27, 2020 in London, England

Image credit: Getty Images

"I'm looking forward to be back competing. I've really enjoyed the last few days just practising with top players," he said before the Western and Southern Open started.

"I've been practising with Dominic Thiem, Andrey Rublev and Karen Khachanov. Those guys don't hold back. It's a bit of a different speed to what I've been used to. I felt a little off the pace but I'm feeling quite good on court in terms of my hip.

"That was really all I wanted. I wanted to get to the US Open feeling pretty pain-free so that I could enjoy playing in a Grand Slam again."

Murray's compatriot Liam Broady thinks he should be setting his sights a little higher, tipping him to spring a surprise or two in New York.

"He's a three-time Grand Slam champion, two-time Olympic gold medallist and I don't think you can ever count him out as a competitor," he said during the Battle of the Brits.

"That's the case especially this year, as the field's slightly different. He's getting out there early to prepare, so only time will tell."

And his Western and Southern Open first-round opponent Frances Tiafoe concurs.

The Scot came out on top 7-6(6) 3-6 6-1, and posted on Instagram after the match - with his American opponent quickly delving into the comments section.

Tiafoe suggested in a light-hearted way that he had dominated the encounter with Murray, but added a heartwarming tribute, writing: "But legends prevail...keep going Andy Murray!"

It was also telling that Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was also quick to post on the comeback photos, saying: "This makes me so happy!" - and another US Open winner Sloane Stephens added: "Love to see this."

The man who played doubles with Murray as he returned to the court last year, Feliciano Lopez, simply posted a heart emoji.

Murray's struggles are well known, and he is massively respected by his peers - as is evident from those posts.

The man himself has a clear-headed perspective on his chances in New York, and knows that his body simply might not be up to successive days of five-set tennis.

"My game - that hasn't changed," he said on Amazon Prime Video. "It comes down to the physical side of things. if it was just on a tennis perspective, and it was one-set matches the whole way I would say yes [I could win a Grand Slam again].

I feel I can still beat a lot of the players if it was just tennis - but there's more to it than that."

It is, of course, massively unlikely that a man with a metal hip is going to win his second US Open this September.

But with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal both missing out, and the lack of form of many of the other top-ranked players, there seems to be a good opportunity for the wildcard to progress through the draw, perhaps as far as the second week.

And of course, after his injury struggles, just being back on court at all is a triumph.

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