On a day when it was revealed that Andy Murray will make his grand slam singles return at the Australian Open, he came close to the best win of his comeback from hip surgery in the wake of his last major appearance in Melbourne this year.
In Tuesday’s second round against the 10th seed, Fabio Fognini, at the Shanghai Masters, Murray eventually fell 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6( 2) in a fast-paced and high-quality match.
The match was notable for a row between the two late on in the contest, with Murray furious when Fognini deliberately called out as he was about to put away a volley. As the pair bickered on the changeover, Murray dismissed his opponent by telling him to “shut up”.
The Scot said: “Fabio wanted to engage with me, I probably shouldn’t have done, but I am not having him talk to me like that on court.”
Murray’s competitive fire clearly still burns as he moves closer to his return to grand slam singles competition. Eight months ago in Australia, Murray broke down during a press conference, seemingly announcing that his career was coming to an end. After his loss, he was awkwardly beckoned off the court with an emotional farewell video from his colleagues.
The video has not aged well. Craig Tiley, the Australian Open tournament director, announced on Tuesday that Murray will return in 2020 to compete in his first grand slam singles match since undergoing hip resurfacing surgery. “A year ago, we retired Andy Murray,” he said on Channel Nine news. “It was his last event and during the course of the year he has had hip surgery and he announced today that he is coming back to play in January.”
After a timid singles return in August, Murray is picking up steam. He committed to three consecutive events in China with the simple goal of playing a couple of matches each week but he has found that his progress has been surprisingly swift. Murray won his first match of his comeback against the world No 69 Tennys Sandgren in Zhuhai, then he surprised himself by toppling No 13 Matteo Berrettini in Beijing before losing 6-2, 7-6 (3) in a competitive quarter-final against the No 5 Dominic Thiem.
Murray’s metal hip is still recovering but in Shanghai he has shown that his serve is already more potent, he is moving magnificently for a man who underwent hip surgery in January and his doubles play has inspired him to flit to the net more frequently. Fognini, a talented Italian with magic hands who won the Monte Carlo Masters 1000 title in May, put Murray’s improving form to the test.
The Italian planted himself on the baseline and constantly moved the ball around, putting Murray under immense pressure, but the Briton stood up to a high-quality opponent and responded with spectacular variety and defence. In the end, rather than his hip, Murray’s lack of match practice came back to hurt him as he twice failed to serve out the match against Fognini at 5-4 and 6-5 in a combative third set before he was thoroughly outplayed in the tie-break.
“That’s the first time ever in my career that that’s happened,” Murray said. “I think it’s the first time I served for a match twice and not won.”
As well as the on-court progress Murray has made, there has been a transformation for his life off the court. “My whole life was pretty much consumed by this pain in my hip,” he said. “It was every minute of the day.”
Murray can now put on his socks, play with his daughters and sleep at night without discomfort. He is happy. When asked last week what has pleased him most in his comeback, he simply smiled: “No pain. Zero pain in my hip.”