Andy Murray has missed tennis so much during his six-month absence with a hip injury that he admits he would be happy just to be competing again, even if he has to settle for nothing better than “top 30” tennis.
“I want to get back to playing my best tennis and winning the biggest tournaments, but if I don't I’m OK with that,” the former world No 1 said here on Sunday ahead of his return to competition at this week’s Brisbane International. “I just want to keep playing.
“My expectations aren’t massively high just now because I've not played for such a long time. I just want to enjoy playing again. I've really missed it the last six months or so.
“You kind of re-evaluate what is important to you. I just want to be able to play tennis. I don't mind if it's 30 in the world level. I would love it to be No 1 in the world level, but I just want to play. When that's taken away from you, you realise how important it is. I'm just hoping that I can get back to a level where I'm able to be really competitive.”
Murray has not played competitively since limping out of Wimbledon in July. After failing to recover his fitness in time for the US Open, the Scot made Brisbane the long-term target for his return. However, he did not confirm his participation here until he had played a practice set against Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut in Abu Dhabi on Friday night.
Having come through that test, Murray continued his journey Down Under and arrived here on Saturday. He is travelling with his coach, Jamie Delgado, his trainer, Matt Little, and physiotherapist, Mark Bender.
Less than 24 hours after his arrival Murray was out on the practice court in preparation for his opening match on either Wednesday or Thursday against Ryan Harrison or Leonardo Mayer. He hit with the Argentinian Federico Delbonis, though his practice session was cut short by rain on a typically hot and steamy Brisbane day.
“I felt OK today, actually, a bit better than I did in the match in Abu Dhabi,” Murray said afterwards. “I'm hoping that's going to keep getting better with each day I practise with better players.
“That's what I need just now. I've not really done that much over the last few months, so hopefully I’ll get in a few more days’ good practice before I play.”
He added: “I certainly feel fresh mentally. I don't feel like there are many miles in my legs, which was certainly the case at the beginning of 2017, when most days I was quite sore all over. Right now the hip is the only thing that is any concern. The rest of my body feels really good.”
Murray said he was confident he would be fit enough to play this week. “Unless something happens the next couple of days that goes wrong, I don't see myself not playing because of my hip right now,” he said.
“What I feel is that I need to play matches to see exactly where it's at. Practising and doing everything in the gym is great but playing matches is what I need.”
Asked to assess his current playing level, Murray said: “On a day-to-day basis, it's difficult to tell exactly what my level is when you've had such high expectations for quite a long time.
“When I have a few bad days, I might feel like I'm playing really poorly, but I might still be good enough to beat top 30, top 40 in the world players, which is still a really, really high level.”
Having sought medical advice on his hip problem, the nature of which he has kept a closely guarded secret, Murray decided not to have surgery but to opt for rest and rehabilitation.
“I feel like I'm getting better, but you need to play matches and you need to play against the best players to gain confidence in how your body and your hip is feeling and how you respond to matches,” he said.
“My hip feels way better than it did at Wimbledon and way better than it did at the US Open, for example - significantly better than that, which is good.”
He added: “Playing the matches and getting used to that intensity again and how you recover from a match is what is important. I'm hoping I'm going to be OK, but you never know for sure until you go through it.
“I have worked really hard. I've spent lots of time rehabbing. I've done everything that's been asked of me from my physio and my physical trainer to give myself the best chance possible for the new year.”
Murray said his long absence from competition had been tough mentally. “I remember when I had my back issues, I was really motivated to get back, but the back surgery was in September so I only missed two and a half months of competition,” he said.
“But from Wimbledon right the way through to the end of the year, that was the longest period I've ever had off as a professional.”
Murray expects to make changes to his schedule this year. “I’ll certainly play less than I have in the past to give my body time to rest and recover,” he said. “I wouldn't say I necessarily played loads of tournaments or overplayed [in the past], but with the way the schedule is there are not lots of breaks in the year.”
He added: “I think giving yourself breaks, especially as you start to get older, is very important and something that I'll certainly be looking to do for however long I keep playing.”
Meanwhile Heather Watson fell in the final round of qualifying here. After winning her first two matches in straight sets, the British No 2 was beaten 6-4, 6-1 by Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi.