January 8, 2014 by Parveer Mann
Originally published on Back Row Sports
I think if you ask any tennis pro, they’d say they have an ideal number of matches they like to play in advance of a Grand Slam. Now if that ideal number is (only) two tour level matches after an extended injury break, you face what Andy Murray has going into Melbourne next week.
Murray re-enters fold
After suffering a three-set loss to Florian Mayer early in Doha, Murray elected not to take a wild card in another tournament this week and instead headed to Melbourne to begin his on-site training in advance of the Australian Open. Not a big deal in any other year but after facing little competition since his back surgery last October some raised eyebrows that Murray could not possibly be entirely ready for the grind of a Slam. So, the question is should we be worried about Murray’s current status?
First, his scheduling post-injury was in sharp contrast to the loaded schedule that Rafael Nadal played after his extended injury last year (Nadal played three tournaments in his first month back). However, I think the scheduling differences can be largely explained by the timing of their returns. If you remember, Nadal waited until after Melbourne to return last year and played mostly minor tournaments on clay all February. In Murray’s case, the lead up to the Australian Open is not that long and most of the pre-tournaments are loaded with quality competition,
Second, you have to consider that the surgery last fall may actually help him in the long-term. According to Murray, the operation will help him move easier on the court and that should save his body some wear and tear later into events. Plus, Murray’s comfort level in Melbourne and on that playing surface should signal that if he says he’s ready after these few matches, we should consider it a strong sign.
We’ll all find out starting next week if Murray’s lack of matches hurts his chances in any way or if he is still the viable title contender that I think he is.
Highlights of the Tennis Week
With the first tournaments of the year wrapped up, Lleyton Hewitt reigns as my winner of the week. Not only did he win his first title since 2010 with his Brisbane triumph but he did it by overcoming his contemporary, Roger Federer. For the 15 years since their first meeting, Federer has usually had the upper hand so it was rewarding to see Hewitt have his moment in his home country.