Andy Murray sets sights on singles comeback by end of the year

Andy Murray in action at the US Open
Andy Murray plans to play doubles in the coming weeks, but singles would be a huge step up Credit: AP

As Andy Murray prepares for next week’s doubles return at Queen’s Club, he is hoping that his partnership with Feliciano Lopez will act as the springboard for a singles comeback before the end of the year.

Murray is trying to break new ground by becoming the first man to play elite singles tennis with a metal hip. But after miscalculating his rehab schedule many times over the last two years, he has decided not to set a firm target, other than to say that the US Open – which starts in late August – will probably come too soon.

In the meantime, his joint bid to lift the Fever-Tree Championships doubles title with Lopez – the veteran Spaniard with the movie-star cheekbones – is likely to begin on either Monday or Wednesday, depending on many other moving parts in the schedule.

“I hope at some stage this year I would be able to get back to playing singles again” said Murray, whose last competitive match was a typically dramatic five-set loss to Roberto Bautista Agut at January’s Australian Open.

“When that is, I’m not really interested in putting a time limit on it because I’m quite happy just now so I don’t need to play singles after Wimbledon or the US Open to… you know, enjoy doing what I’m doing just now. If I can that would be brilliant but I don’t think that’s going to be the case, I think it’s going to take a bit longer.

“I still have quite a lot of work to do before I’m at a level where I feel like I’ll be able to be competitive. At this moment I’ve been progressing all of the time, at some stage it’s probably going to plateau for a while before I’m able to kick on.”

Murray’s surge back to match fitness – at least, the sort of fitness required for covering half the court – has happened with unexpected speed. He went under the knife on Jan 29 and it was March 29 before social media featured the first pictures of him hitting against a practice wall in his home village of Oxshott.

Another two months on, he is moving like a top-class athlete again, even if the chasm between singles and doubles remains difficult to bridge. In the words of Bob Bryan – the 41-year-old doubles champion who underwent the same hip operation last year – a best-of-five-set singles match is “almost close to 50 times more physical” than doubles.

Murray’s appearance in the doubles event at Queen’s will make Saturday’s draw all the more intriguing, especially as he could end up taking on his elder brother Jamie.

Andy admitted yesterday that, around six weeks ago, the two Murrays had talked about joining forces in a fraternal team, especially as Jamie already planned to split with long-term partner Bruno Soares after the French Open.

But they concluded that Jamie – who stands at No. 8 in the ATP doubles rankings – would be better off alongside someone whose fitness is not in question. Hence Jamie’s new partnership with 29-year-old Liverpudlian Neal Skupski, who won their first match together in the Netherlands on Tuesday.

The Murray brothers could face each other in the doubles at Queens Credit: GETTY IMAGES

“We spoke about it,” said Andy yesterday, “and I told him [Jamie] that it was not certain that I will be ready to play and I also don't particularly want to let him down two minutes before the tournament.”

So he turned to Lopez, who is is an old friend of the Murrays, having been famously dubbed “Deliciano” by family matriarch Judy. He is also as an experienced grass-court performer who reached the Queen’s singles final two years ago.

As for the possibility of an on-court collision with Jamie at Queen’s, Andy replied “I think mentally for me if I was playing singles it’s a bit more difficult. Because my priority at the time would be singles and [doubles] is my brother’s career. But if I played him here then I’d definitely be trying to win. It’s bound to end up happening, I’d imagine. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was how the draw came out.”

The Lopez solution may be short-lived. Murray wants to enter the Nature Valley International in Eastbourne in ten days’ time. But this will be impossible for Lopez unless he is handed a wild card to Wimbledon. Because his ranking has dropped to No. 108, Lopez’s only other route into the main draw at the All England Club would be to go through the qualifying tournament at Roehampton that week.

As for Murray’s planned entry to the Wimbledon doubles tournament, he said “I’ve spoken to a few players who are a bit more relaxed about whether I can play or not – not doubles specialists. So we’ll see.”

Meanwhile, Murray was announced yesterday as a supporter of the Prime Video Future Talent Award, which will pay £60,000 over two years to the best up-and-coming young male and female tennis players in Britain. The award – which is intended to dovetail with the Lawn Tennis Association’s Pro Scholarship Programme – will also include mentorship from Murray, as well as further support from Tim Henman, Annabel Croft and Anne Keothavong, who will join forces to select the beneficiaries every two years.