And after the tears of disappointment and the pain that marred the Murray face at the Australian Open—both before and after his solitary gruelling five-set match against Roberto Bautista Agut—it comes as a shot in the arm, a singularly welcomed sight, to see him enjoying his tennis in the heat of competition.
That the return was on home turf, at a tournament where he has won a record five singles titles, and where he can enjoy the luxury of sleeping in his own bed—Queen’s Club in Kensington—made it all the more sweet, even if that first match was not in singles but in doubles.
And he could not have chosen a better partner: a friend, a former champion at Queen’s himself, and a formidable doubles player, Feliciano Lopez. A measure of just what a fine grass-court player the Spaniard remains at the age of 37 could be gleaned from the singles draw here: As a wild card, he has made it to the quarter-finals.
And the delay to this week’s rain-drenched tournament only made the wait for their first appearance more tantalising. Finally, the last match on the fourth day of the Fever-tree Championships came to court, and in the nick of time. The light was fading, the sap was rising, the grass was becoming a little greasy.
And in truth, there were not high expectations of success: For all Lopez’s doubles skill, Murray was sure to be match-rusty—and as luck would have it, they had drawn the top seeds, Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Col Farah.
But those competitive Murray juices were soon flowing, his resurfaced hip apparently as good as new, and his partner’s leftie serve and volley skills rose to the crowds cheering.
Without a break point chance on either side, they headed to a first-set tiebreak, and Murray/Lopez nabbed it 7-6 (5). That was the invitation to speed things up, save the only break point they faced, and break their opponents to take a 4-2 lead. Lopez thumped down a couple of aces, and they served out the match, 6-3, in under an hour and a quarter.
“It was brilliant,” Murray said on court immediately after the match.
“Leading up to the match I was quite relaxed, but I was a bit nervous when we started walking to the court. That’s what you need.”
He afterwards expanded on the experience of being back on court.
“I expected to enjoy the match because I told myself I was going to regardless of what happened. I spoke a bit about that with my coach and my team, like, regardless of the result, you need to make sure you enjoy this, because a few months ago I had no clue whether I’d be back playing on a court.
“And to feel as well as I did there—not perfect, in terms of everything like my movement and things, but pain-free and stuff—I mean, yeah, I enjoyed it.
He went on to talk about his doubts about how he would perform in this very special venue:
“I learnt quite a bit tonight. I sort of expected to be the worst player on the court tonight and to not feel particularly good on the court, and I was prepared to feel that way, which was probably the case in the first set.
“But then I think I started to play better in the second and started to serve a bit better, see the returns a little bit better. I have zero discomfort in my hip after the match—like, nothing. And if I had done this last year, you know, I’d be here aching, throbbing, and feel bad the next day.
“So I’ll just keep pushing and see how it goes. But I feel optimistic about the future. I don’t know how long it will take to get to that level, but hopefully not too long.”
Murray had already announced he would play next week in Eastbourne if everything went well, playing there with Brazilian Marcelo Melo. Until now, he had talked of hoping to play in the Wimbledon doubles draw, too, but after this win, he told the media that his partner there would be Frenchman Pierre-Hugues Herbert, another very fine doubles player who, with Nicolas Mahut, has won all four of the Majors and six Masters titles.
The younger of the French pair planned this year to develop his singles resume—he was runner-up in Montpellier this spring—and so initially would not commit to doubles with Murray. After some thought, however, he and his team changed their minds. And it should be a very fine partnership indeed.
However, Murray may have to wait to try his hand in the mixed doubles draw, despite a wish to do so:
“Yeah, I would like to. I have spoken to a couple of players. I’ve been rejected a couple of times so far [smiling].
“But, yeah, if I’m feeling good I will. I sort of asked a couple of people to play, but I need to wait and see how I’m feeling first.”
Asked what reasons anyone would have for turning him down, he grinned:
“I can think of many!”
The reason, in fact, was rather prosaic. He had asked singles players who had already committed to doubles, and they didn’t want to agree to playing in three events.
However, one suspects it will not be too long before a WTA players raises their hand…
MORE: The latest football news
MORE: The latest tennis news
BIOGRAPHY: Ethan Hazard
BIOGRAPHY: Daniel Sturridge