Opinion: Don’t rule Andy Murray out in Melbourne

Andy Murray has worked hard in his recovery from back surgery. Pic: AP
Andy Murray has worked hard in his recovery from back surgery. Pic: AP
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Andy Murray is urging caution. He says it is “unrealistic” to expect him to win the Australian Open, which starts on Monday, so soon after recovering from surgery on his back.

Murray, of course, is right. The Australian Open is a gruelling tournament, one during which temperatures have soared into the high 40s centigrade, so hot that eggs really can be fried on the concrete walkways surrounding Melbourne Park.

It requires supreme fitness, which is why it is no coincidence that the iron-hard and wiry Serb Novak Djokovic has reigned there for the past three years and has pocketed four Australian Open titles in all.

But do not rule out Murray from improving on his three runners-up places in Melbourne to date, despite losing in a competitive exhibition warm-up match against Lleyton Hewitt yesterday. Nor from showering 2014 with yet more stardust following his historic win at Wimbledon in 2013.

Why? Because it is doubtful if there is a more dedicated or determined competitor than Murray right now in the world of sport.

Some sportsmen might have been persuaded by the BBC to fly back home last month to receive their prestigious Sports Personality of the Year prize, especially when their sport was in its holiday period.

Murray was having none of it, refusing to disrupt his recuperation and training regime at his Miami base.

Kudos and congratulation has never been Murray’s motivation. He is more at home doing 20 pull-ups, pushing 500lb on the leg-press and honing his stamina to a point where he can sustain a pulse rate of 200 beats per minute. Murray recognised early in his career the old adage that great achievements require 90 per cent perspiration and ten per cent inspiration.

It is why he surrounded himself with one of the biggest professional entourages in tennis, assembled at great cost, but which has brought huge reward.

At its focal point is fitness trainer Jez Green who, over the past six years, has turned Murray from a stripling into a strongman of the sport.

Green, a key figure in Murray’s latest recuperation, has always pointed to Murray’s speed and movement, comparing his stop-start acceleration to that of an Olympic sprinter. Green told reporters last year: “Even more valuable than his flat speed is the ability to stop and turn so quickly. He’s putting three times his body weight through his legs in that moment, so they have to be seriously strong.

“But, above all, he is fast with his eyes. He picks up the cues so quickly and he knows where the ball is going that much faster than almost anyone else.”

It has taken eventual champion Djokovic to stop Murray in Melbourne for the last three years and if all goes to plan there is a chance they could meet in the final this time.

It is a big ask because to do so Murray, who plays Japan’s Go Soeda, the world No.112, in the first round followed by a qualifier, would have to beat, in all probability, Roger Federer in the quarter-finals and Rafael Nadal in the semis.

If Murray needs an example of how quickly a sportsman can regain his prowess following injury, however, he need only look at Nadal, who missed the Olympics and the US Open in 2012 and the Australian Open last year with knee problems and a stomach virus before returning after seven months out to win the French Open and the US Open last year as well as regaining the world No.1 spot.

It would be silly to saddle Murray with such expectation. Caution is the buzzword. But stardust does have a habit of clinging to those who work hardest.