Return of the Miracle Man

 - Simon Cambers

Andy Murray's win in Antwerp may rank as one of the all-time greatest comebacks in sport

Andy Murray fist pumping during the 2018 US Open©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

When an emotional Andy Murray broke down during a press conference in Melbourne at the start of the year, there can surely have been few people who truly believed he would ever play again, let alone be competing for the sport’s biggest titles.

And yet on Sunday, less than nine months on after a hip resurfacing operation that he took primarily to ease the pain, Murray’s win in the European Open in Antwerp on Sunday proved that miracles sometimes do happen.

No one had ever had such an operation and come back

As Murray sat, head in hands, with tears flowing just moments after his 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Stan Wawrinka, the enormity of what he has achieved, with a metal hip, began to sink in. For all this three grand slam titles, two Olympic gold medals and his Davis Cup triumph, this has to be considered as one of the all-time great comebacks in any sport.

Even a month ago, Murray said he was playing tennis at the level of about the world’s No 60 or 70, still struggling to compete with the world’s best. His movement was occasionally laboured and he was being overpowered by opponents he would once have had little trouble with.

No one had ever had such an operation and come back, in singles, and the doubts were there. But in three tournaments in Asia, he found something and took a couple of steps forward, his movement more explosive. He carried that momentum into Antwerp and against all the odds, he won his first title since early 2017.

"Quicker than I thought"

“The last two years for me were hard, it was difficult,” Murray told reporters. “I need to now start talking more about my future, and I am certainly a lot more optimistic now than I was a couple of months ago, even a few weeks ago.

“When I spoke to my team about the trip to Asia I said I just want to be competitive, that I'm not feeling I'm getting smashed by other guys, so I am surprised. It has happened quicker than I thought.”

Back in January, as he watched a video tribute in which his fellow players offered heart-felt words about his impact on the sport, Murray looked slightly embarrassed and even then, it seemed a trifle premature.  

Though Murray had admitted before his match in Melbourne that he might never play again, his statement on court, just before the video was played, that “maybe I’ll see you again” left a window open to a possible return.

Andy Murray waving goodbye at the Australian Open 2019©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Wawrinka threw everything at Murray

It’s been a long, hard road back to this point and there was an element of irony in the fact that it should have been Wawrinka he was facing in the final on Sunday.

When the two men met in the semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2017, Murray was the world No 1, while Wawrinka had won the title two years before. That match, as it turned out, was the start of really serious injury problems for both, with Murray’s hip giving out and Wawrinka later requiring two significant knee operations.

Watching both men back on court in another final was an uplifting feeling and though Wawrinka threw everything at Murray, the Scot’s resilience just about got him over the line.

Antwerp marked the first time Murray had made it past the quarter-finals since he began his singles comeback in July and the emotions came out as Wawrinka’s final forehand flew long to hand him his 46th career title.

"It means a lot,” Murray said. “The past few years have been extremely difficult. Both me and Stan have had a lot of injury problems in the past couple of years. Amazing to be back playing against him in a final like that. I think it was a great match. I didn't expect to be in this position at all, so I'm very happy."

"Andy's an amazing champion"

Wawrinka was disappointed not to have won his first title since his two knee surgeries in 2017 but he found time to congratulate Murray’s achievements.

“He's an amazing champion, he's part of the big four, he's one of the top players to ever play this sport. He's won everything possible on the tennis court. He's a big champion, always a fighter. He's coming back already from hip surgery….at that level, it's something amazing."

What will please Murray is that his level of tennis remained so high throughout a gruelling match.

“This is one of the biggest wins that I've had after everything," said Murray. "I'm very proud of the win this week and I've enjoyed my time here."

Murray’s win lifted his ranking up to No 127 but the confidence gained from living with one of the best and winning a title, pain-free, is surely worth far more than the ranking points.

©Corinne Dubreuil/FFT

Well on his way there

With his third child due any day now, Murray will spend the next few four weeks at home, before playing his last event of the year, the new Davis Cup finals in Madrid, in mid-November.

Then, all being well, he will start to think about 2020, beginning with the ATP Cup and then back to the Australian Open, which will be an emotional experience in itself.

With his confidence up, his belief back, his physical strength improving and his match tightness growing all the time, optimism is high.

If it is asking a lot for him to get back to the very top, he is well on his way there. Which is more than anyone could have expected.