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Disappointed but satisfied; Andy Murray finally on the right track again

The Scot believes his level of play is now getting back to where he wants it to be.

Andy Murray, Australian Open 2023 Andy Murray, Australian Open 2023 – © AI / Reuters / Panoramic

There was disappointment and yet pride; irritation and elation. Just your average Andy Murray match, really.

But there was nothing average about what Andy Murray produced at this year’s Australian Open. Over the course of three matches, spread over 14 hours and three minutes, the 35-year-old reminded everyone how great a player he is.

When he returned from hip surgery in 2019, with a metal hip to boot, few people believed Murray could compete at the top level again. In the years since, there have been good moments but plenty of disappointment, to the point where many lesser mortals would have just called it a day.

Stats show Murray’s level has improved

But Murray is no mere mortal. As his body has adjusted to the new hip, so he has found a way to push himself to extremes in training again. Under the guidance of Ivan Lendl, he has put in the hours on the dreaded versaclimber and spent hours on the court, getting back the feeling that had been lacking for much of the past few years.

His wins over Matteo Berrettini and Thanasi Kokkinakis, the latter the longest match of his career at five hours, 45 minutes, showed that his fitness and stamina are as good as ever. Even in his third-round match with Roberto Bautista Agut, despite vicious blisters and a sore back which reduced the effectiveness of his serve, he almost found a way to win.

Just look at the stats. Murray saved 22 of the 33 break points he faced. In his first two rounds, he won more than 70 percent of points on his first serve and won more than 50 percent of points on his opponent’s second serve. Against Berrettini, he won 67 percent o points on his second serve, a great figure for him.

He seemed to be hitting his backhand as well as ever and when he was down in both the firsy two rounds, he played more aggressively than at any time since 2016, the year when he won Wimbledon, a second Olympic gold medal and became world No 1 for the first time.

“I felt good about the way that I was playing,” he said. “It’s more enjoyable for me when I’m playing like that, when I’m coming into a major event and really believing that I can do some damage.

“But I can have a deeper run than the third round of a slam, there’s no question about that. Obviously draws can open up for you. I need to also help myself with that. If I was playing at this level last year, I probably wouldn’t be ranked 50, 60 in the world. It’s up to me to try and change that.”

Andy Murray 2023 Australian Open
Andy Murray 2023 Australian Open || AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Movement the absolute key to his game and belief

Murray was most pleased with his movement, perhaps the hallmark of his game throughout his career.

“I think my movement here was really good. That’s something that at times hasn’t been great the last 12, 18 months. It’s really important for me. When I move well, it allows me to play the game style that is most effective for me,” he said.

“I finished a lot of points up at the net during this event, which was really positive. I believe if you count the aces and stuff in the winners’ column – I wasn’t serving loads – but from the back of the court and up at the net, I was doing pretty well there. So there were a number of things I was pleased with in my game.”

His attitude, too, was positive throughout. Yes, there were a few moments where he ranted towards his box but in general, he was focused and upbeat, something that usually translates into him playing his good tennis.

Being seeded at slams is the next aim

And so, the next step is to climb the rankings. Ranked 62, he has just 140 points to defend before the grass-court season and if he can stay away from injury, he will believe he has a great chance to get himself seeded for perhaps Roland-Garros and definitely Wimbledon.

That should help him when it comes to draws and on the evidence of the past week, there is a big run in there. Next stop for Murray will be Rotterdam, an event he won in 2009 but which has not been his happiest hunting ground.

Dubai, Indian Wells and Miami will follow, surely, and by the time the clay-court season begins, it would be a surprise should Murray not be knocking on the door of a seeding once more.

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