London: Wimbledon returns after a two-year absence next week and with it one of Centre Court’s favourite fixtures as Britain’s twice former champion Andy Murray attempts to roll back the years.
The 34-year-old is one of the crown jewels of British sport having ended 77 years of hurt by winning the 2013 Wimbledon title and repeating the feat three years later.
But hip surgeries in 2018 and 2019, the second one a resurfacing procedure, have made sightings of Murray at the All England Club a rarity in recent years and his last singles match was a painful defeat by Sam Querrey in the 2017 quarter-finals.
The former world number one returns this year as a wildcard, with a ranking of 119, and while his hopes of adding a third title look remote, Murray will be assured of huge support every time he strides on to the hallowed turf.
He has only played a handful of Tour-level matches this year having missed the Australian Open because of a positive COVID-19 test and opting out of competing at the French Open.
At Queen’s Club last week he showed flashes of his mercurial game as he won his first-round match before being overpowered by Italian Matteo Berrettini, the eventual champion.
Murray said he was struggling with a groin injury at Queen’s and it can only be hoped that his body holds together long enough for him to be competitive at Wimbledon.
If that is the case there will be plenty of seeds who will be keen to avoid an early meeting with a player who knows the Wimbledon grass like the back of his hand.
It is a big if, however. “He hasn’t played very much, but what I have seen is someone who is trying to get healthy,” former Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, who will be working for ESPN at the tournament, said.
“I just hope he’s able to maintain a level of health where he can do his thing. If he was able to do that, he’d be in the top 10. Obviously, to me he’s not able to go a 100%.
“I don’t know how much longer he can go if, in fact, he’s playing at 80%. It’s clear that it’s not at a hundred. If he get into the 90s, you’d see his ranking go up in a hurry because it’s clear he still wants to play.”
Inspiration from Djokovic
Murray’s desire is clearly still there and he obviously draws inspiration from world number one Novak Djokovic, who is also 34, Rafa Nadal, who is 35, and the 39-year-old marvel that is Roger Federer – the trio he at one stage seriously rivalled.
After beating Benoit Paire at Queen’s Club, he was choked up as he spoke on court and there might well be more tears over the next fortnight as he attempts to write another thrilling chapter of his Wimbledon love story.
“I’m always sort of telling myself, and maybe it’s not the best mindset, but each match could be my last one,” Murray said at Queen’s. “I want to make the most of every match that I play and each tournament that I get the chance to compete in.”