Andy Murray return gathers pace as China swing is added to his calendar

Former champion plays first singles match since January in Cincinnati this week

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis
Andy Murray
Andy Murray (Photo: Marianne Bevis)

Hot on the heels of Andy Murray taking a wild card into the Cincinnati Masters next week to play his first singles match since his painful exit from the Australian Open in January, the Briton has announced on Facebook that he is to make the long trip east to play the inaugural Zhuhai Championships and then the prestigious ATP500 China Open in Beijing.

His fitness and focus have clearly moved on apace since he underwent major hip surgery at the start of the year. Indeed, such was the distress and pain he suffered in Australia that it seemed probable that Murray may never play at the elite level again—and he certainly believed that to be the case before taking the big decision have hip surgery for the second time.

Yet he was fit and confident enough to make an earlier-than-expected appearance in the doubles draw at Queen’s—and won the title with Feliciano Lopez into the bargain. The next week, with another partner, he played doubles at Eastbourne, and the week after that, opted into men’s and mixed doubles at Wimbledon, making the second round in the former and the third with Serena Williams in the latter.

Then it was the Washington 500 with brother Jamie, this week the Montreal Masters back with Lopez, and next week, doubles again with Lopez but, most significantly, his first attempt at a singles draw.

It is a big step to take in such a big tournament, and he will be tested early by Richard Gasquet in the first match and, should he win, world No4 Dominic Thiem in the second.

But he has insisted since that first return at Queen’s that he would postpone singles until he was sure he felt ready.

“My best now might not be what it was when I was 25 in terms of what that looks like on a tennis court. Who knows, maybe it will be in a few months.”

He was, he stressed, just happy to be playing competitive tennis again:

“It’s been brilliant, completely life changing from where I was. I’m looking forward to getting back out there, but I also don’t know what to expect and I’m not having expectations on myself because just being out on a tennis court again and being comfortable and pain free is enough.”

After Wimbledon, he explained that strength and stamina would be the last things to return, and that building both would now be his priority:

“Now my Wimbledon is over, my focus will switch to doing a lot of physical work over the next four to six weeks to improve the strength in my hip… That strength is not going to come back in just three or four months it could take nine or 12 months.”

In Montreal and now Cincinnati, the fruits of his training have been tested in practice sets against fellow players, and one can only assume those sessions have been going very well.

It is no surprise, then, that he has already opted into the Asian swing: It is a season that has earned Murray titles and points many times before.

He has, for example, won the Shanghai Masters four times—though he has yet to commit to playing there this October—and he has also won in Shenzhen and Beijing.

He said of his return to China:

“As I look to play more singles events later in the year, I’m happy to announce I’ll be playing at the inaugural Zhuhai Championships… I have always enjoyed playing in China, and Zhuhai is meant to be a great city. It’s close to Macau and Hong Kong, with an impressive stadium and I can’t wait to experience it.

“I’m also going to play Beijing the week after Zhuhai. I’ve got some great memories from playing in Beijing, it’s a really interesting city, and I’m looking forward to heading back there again!”

He has said until now that the US Open is not on his radar: the gruelling five-set format would probably be a step too far at this stage of his training, though the wild cards for the last Major of the year are yet to be announced.

First things first, though: Cincinnati will be Murray’s first Masters match in well over two years aside from one loss last year—in the first round of this very same tournament. It also happens to be the first Masters title that he won, back in 2008—and he won again in 2011.

Lots of memories for the Briton in this historic event, then, and another soon to be added to the list.

Zhuhai, located on the stunning Pearl River Delta, has hosted the WTA Elite Trophy, the sister event of the WTA Finals that features the next 12 ranked women at the end of the season, since 2015.

The inaugural ATP250 Zhuhai Championships, which begin on 23 September, is therefore attracting a lot of interest. Along with Murray, it has already signed up Stefanos Tsitsipas, Roberto Bautista Agut, Borna Coric, Gael Monfils, Nick Kyrgios, and Alex De Minaur.

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