Andy Murray picks up a racket in public for the first time in nearly a month in Zurich on Monday night when he plays an exhibition match against Roger Federer that will raise money for underprivileged schoolchildren in Africa but will tell the Scot little about the state of his worrisome right elbow.
Murray, who missed the Miami Open last week and Great Britain’s exit from the 2017 Davis Cup in Rouen this weekend, will not know if the injury will hold up under serious match pressure, especially when serving, until he returns to the Tour at the Monte Carlo Open next week.
There he will be at the opposite end of the draw from Novak Djokovic, who set aside his own elbow problems to lead Serbia to Davis Cup victory against Spain in Belgrade. In the semi-finals they will play France, who on Sunday completed a 4-1 win against Great Britain after two reverse singles that were markedly at odds with the intensity of the opening‑day matches.
Could the 2015 champions have beaten their determined hosts had Murray been available? Certainly he would have started favourite to win his singles against Lucas Pouille and Jérémy Chardy, and he might even have partnered his brother, Jamie, in the doubles, which the French won in a tight four-setter on Saturday.
The Great Britain captain, Leon Smith, insists the world No1 would have played had he been confident of not aggravating the injury that forced him to rest after losing against Vasek Pospisil in Indian Wells on 12 March. “His intention was to play here,” Smith said after Chardy had completed the formalities by beating Kyle Edmund 6-4, 6-4 in the final rubber, which followed Dan Evans’s more relaxed workout in defeating the late replacement Julien Benneteau 6-1, 6-2.
Smith said: “He will still play [next year]. If he’s fit and healthy, he wants to play. I know how much he missed this one. I am sure he will be back.”
When it was suggested Murray might one day be a playing captain when his career starts to wind down, Smith, who has done an extraordinary job with the team over the past seven years, laughed and replied: “He can for sure take my job when he’s ready. I would for sure vacate this seat for him.
“He loves playing, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he plays on the Tour for a long time and carries on with the Davis Cup. He’s always liked team events. If they make changes that work well, it becomes even more attractive to play.”
While France outclassed Great Britain on their favoured clay, Smith railed against a mood of pessimism he detected in some media coverage, and said there are a couple of younger players on the fringe of selection who give him cause for optimism. Jay Clarke, an 18-year-old prospect from Derby, and Cam Norrie, a left-hander, three years older with a more exotic background, have been hitting with the squad and impressed not only Smith but the squad members.
Born in South Africa and living in Texas where he plays college tennis, Norrie was developing his career in New Zealand until he switched his allegiance to Great Britain at 17, through his father’s Scottish origins.
Clarke has won 14 times on the Futures circuit this year, and returned from Turkey last month with a title and two quarter‑final places. Norrie has risen rapidly to 237 in the world, and will try to qualify for the French Open.
“Jay looked absolutely terrific,” Smith said. “We have had two weeks with him. One of our guys, James Trotman, does some stuff with him, and he’s working now with Esteban Carril. We set that situation up as part of our funding, and he’s doing about 22 weeks with him. He put up some good resistance work in practice and that’s what you are looking for. Both Kyle and Evo noticed that he has a good game.
“Cam is doing really well in [college tennis in the United States]. He is ranked two or three in the NCAAs. He’s winning a lot and turns pro in May. His first tournament probably will be the French quallies, straight into it. He should be on the cusp and get in. He hits a great ball. Kyle was full of compliments for him. To be ranked 237 after just eight events, he’s on the right track.”