Andy Murray believes there is an outside chance he can return to the top of men’s tennis, though his more pressing priority is the latest addition to his growing family.
Murray’s wife Kim is expecting their third child this month and the latest stage of his comeback from hip resurfacing surgery at the European Open in Antwerp will be put on hold if the baby arrives early.
The three-time grand slam champion and former world number one has impressed in recent events and saw off a top-20 player in Matteo Berrettini at the China Open, though he lost in the quarter-finals to Dominic Thiem.
A thrilling second-round defeat to Fabio Fognini at the Shanghai Masters provided more reasons for optimism and the Australian Open confirmed Murray will be in the field at the first grand slam of 2020.
Having previously said it would be naive to expect him to return to his best, Murray provided a more upbeat projection of what the future may hold in an interview with The Times.
“I am surprised with how smooth it has been,” Murray said of his comeback. “I had two years of having lots of pain after every single match. Now I play a match, the body hurts, I have some pain in my back, the muscles are tired and things like that, but my hip is fine and I couldn’t remember what that was like before.
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“It has been hard but I expected it to be quite a bumpy road because it wasn’t something that has been done in tennis before. I know having done this that you will see way more athletes having this operation and coming back to compete, because there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to.
“There is no pain. The range of motion is the one thing that is a bit limited in some sports. I don’t know if there are some sports in which that is more important than tennis. But it is great.
“I have been competitive so far. If I can keep improving a few things over the next few months, then maybe there is an outside chance I can get around there [the top of the sport]. But I am not going to be playing a similar schedule to what I played beforehand.
“If I do get up there, I’m not going to be focusing on ranking targets. You look at what Roger [Federer], Rafa [Nadal] and I guess Novak [Djokovic], to a certain extent, are doing to give themselves a chance to play longer.
“Right now, Rafa could be fighting to finish number one in the world and it’s not a priority for him. I would like to be competitive in the big events against the best players. I’m not there yet, but I’m closer than I was a month ago, and much closer than a couple of months ago.
Letting RIP when it matters
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“I now know that it’s not important where or when I end my career. If I had another hip injury, I probably wouldn’t keep going. I wouldn’t want to do another six or seven months or rehab, because I feel I pretty much had two years of it.
“My hip could break and that would be it. I would be finished if that happened. But there is no sign of that happening any time soon. It seems to be getting stronger all the time.”
On how the imminent arrival of his third child could alter his plans for the coming week in Belgium, Murray said: “Obviously the baby can come any time from pretty much next week.
“I would adjust my schedule if I couldn’t go to Antwerp. My plan is to play Antwerp and then I am done through to the Davis Cup [in November]. If the baby came early, I would miss Antwerp and then maybe play at the Paris Masters [starting October 26].”