August 13, 2019
Andy Murray has wisely decided not to play singles at the US Open.
His comeback will continue away from the five-set format for now.
He will still enjoy Flushing Meadows as a doubles player though, just as he did Wimbledon.
But the two-time Wimbledon champion will look to gain singles momentum elsewhere and more gradually.
Tournaments in China and beyond will help that process. The inaugural Zhuhai Championships and the Beijing Open will help Andy regain his sharpness.
He may even play the Winston-Salem tournament next week.
And Murray will aim to put himself back in the best possible shape in time for the New Year.
He reckons twelve months is enough time to get fully fit from the date of his hip operation earlier this year.
Realistically, however, it may not be until Wimbledon 2020 that Murray finds he can launch a genuine Grand Slam assault.
The Australian and French Opens could still provide big stages and tempting opportunities before the All England Club beckons.
Murray’s participation in the singles at those Slams will depend on his own assessment of how fiercely he can compete, course.
That ferocity will increase by the week and month, we suspect.
He won’t have enjoyed seeing his serve broken early in both sets during his 4-6, 4-6 defeat to Richard Gasquet though.
And later he admitted that he is still far away from where he would like to be.
Still, the result in Cincinnati was no great surprise – despite the fact that a super-fit Murray was used to beating Gasquet regularly back in the day.
These are early moments on the comeback trail. Andy made a match of it against the Frenchman. And he will surely take comfort from that.
Perhaps Murray’s shaky serve was a problem we expected to be a little less severe.
But the Scot should be able to correct that service delivery sooner rather than later, with a few technical tweaks.
The quality of lateral and forward movement required to prevail on court against the very best may take longer to recapture.
He was caught out by Gasquet’s drop shots and clever angles. He struggled with sudden changes in direction.
But to have earned several break points on the Gasquet serve in his very first match back is cause for encouragement. This definitely wasn’t one-way traffic.
Still, Murray hopes for so much more. He reckons he will be able to summon his old speed and agility in the next six months.
What does that mean for the Slams?
The Australian Open is now likely to provide Andy with his first return to five-set singles. But even the wildest optimist wouldn’t expect Andy to go very deep there.
Having said that, Roger Federer confounded the critics in 2017 by lifting the Aussie title after an eight-month absence. Anything is possible!
Assuming that lightning doesn’t strike twice, however, Paris would offer the next massive stage for Murray to re-establish his credentials.
In the era of Rafael Nadal, you wonder whether Roland Garros, its resident champion and the specialist requirements of clay could prove too much for Andy, if he is a player still finding his feet.
The French Open might turn out to be an important stepping stone, rather than a stunning success story for Murray in itself.
But by the time Wimbledon 2020 comes around, Andy should be a force to be reckoned with – especially on home territory.
He will hope to show us on that seductive, familiar grass what he is really made of – and Wimbledon is where that successful hip operation could really bear fruit.
For now it is a question of being patient and enjoying every little sign of progress. Murray and his passionate fans must adopt the same philosophy.
The sudden solo climb to the heady Grand Slam heights of Flushing Meadows proved too steep to negotiate this time around.
Although he wanted to enjoy the Big Apple once more, he must have known deep down that he isn’t yet athletically ready to go it alone and truly do himself justice.
So Murray will settle for men’s and mixed doubles at Flushing Meadows. He will continue the more serious business of his singles recovery elsewhere.
Murray’s defeat by Gasquet in Cincinnati told us that he still has a way to go before he can compete against the best on a singles court.
Many of us thought his decision to play singles there was slightly rushed, with the US Open his main aim.
So it proved.
Time had always been against the Brit on this occasion.
The tournament organisers at Flushing Meadows weren’t about to give Andy extra days to decide whether or not to take a wild card for the last Slam of the year.
They had their own schedule for announcing their wild cards. Andy wanted to see how his body reacted to singles in Cincinnati before he committed.
Both positions were entirely understandable.
No one’s fault. But it was not to be, this time around, for the former US Open champion.
Looking at those longer-term objectives, however, Murray will surely already have an eye on Wimbledon 2020
That is his home Slam, the one where he will be desperate to impress one last time.
Everything will be geared towards success there.
It is hard to imagine a Wimbledon better than we enjoyed in 2019.