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Tennis News • Andy Murray The Miracle Man • Wins Shanghai Opener

By Alix Ramsay

There is something deeply reassuring about the sight of a tall, unshaven Scotsman growling and swearing his way through three sets, complaining to his support team every time a point goes begging and generally looking about as cheerful as gravedigger with a wasp in his boxers. Yes, that’s our Andy. The Muzz is back in business.

His comeback from hip surgery is not so much gathering momentum as gliding through the gears and this week he is in Shanghai for the Rolex Masters, pitting his wits and his tin hip against the best in the business.

On Monday he took two hours and 17 minutes to get used to the conditions – faster than he has been used to of late – and get the better of Juan Ignacio Londero, the world No.56 from Argentina, 2-6, 6-2, 6-3. That has put him through to the second round and an appointment with Fabio Fognini, the world No.12.

It was Murray’s first win at a Masters 1000 event since 2017 and while it may not go down in history as one of the greatest victories of his career, it was yet another stride forward as he tries to get back to his best. Just a handful of weeks ago, he was huffing and puffing his way through a couple of rounds at a Challenger event in Mallorca and cramping as he did so. Now he is flinging himself around the court and clattering winners in the process.

Sure enough, there were ups and downs – 23 break points between them hinted at a less than dominant serving performance from either man – but after a dodgy opening set, Murray got used to the speed of the court and stepped in to apply some pressure. It brought the desired result.

But it was in the third set that the Murray watchers were able to breathe a sigh of relief. He was 3-1 and seemingly in control when suddenly he found himself having to defend three break points. And when that third one presented itself, the swearing could be heard all the way back to Beijing; he was furious with himself. He thwacked his racket, he cussed long and loud (and was lucky not to get a warning for it, too) and he growled and grumped. But then, as in days of yore, he broke straight back with a thumping cross court forehand, played on the run and hooked away for a winner. It was Muzza’s signature shot and one that many of us thought that tin hip would never allow him to play again.

“The conditions are very, very different to the last two weeks,” Murray said. “The courts are playing much, much faster and arriving fairly late from Beijing meant I didn’t get a lot of time to get used to it.

“Juan had obviously played a couple matches in the qualies and he was timing the ball really nicely at the beginning and I was sort of backing off the baseline and letting him dictate. I had to start going for my shots a little bit more, started being a bit more aggressive on the return and taking his time away a little bit. When I did that, I got a lot of success.”

Given that just nine months ago, Murray could barely put his socks on unaided, this was another impressive performance in a very profitable run through the Asian tournaments. He is playing for his third consecutive week and, so far, has played six matches in the past 14 days. It may not sound much by the standards of Roger Federer or Rafa Nadal but it is not half bad for a bloke who was all but permanently retired in January. And compared to his first hesitant steps back on the singles court in Cincinnati back in August, it is a massive improvement.

“It’s always difficult to really say exactly where you are,” he explained last week as he made his way to the quarter-finals in Beijing. “Last week [in Zhuhai] felt like quite a big step for me. The matches I played, just in terms of my movement around the court, I actually felt quite confident by the end of the week. I’m actually moving pretty well.

“When I was over in the States, and when I played the challenger in Mallorca, I was a little bit concerned with that. I just didn’t feel that comfortable moving around.

“Then when I watched videos of the matches, I just didn’t really like how I looked in terms of my movement. Whereas last week – and I think it was the case here as well – my movement on the court is not like it was before [the surgery], but it’s enough to be very competitive at this level. Hopefully that can continue to improve over the next couple of months.

“But, yeah, I think I’m doing pretty well. I would say I’m quite happy with that. I don’t know where exactly I expected to be really, but I think I’m doing quite well.”

Fognini will present a different challenge. The Italian is having the season of his life and has everything to play for as he tries to claim one of the last tickets to London’s O2 Arena and the ATP Tour Finals. The last time they played was at Wimbledon in 2017 when Murray could barely walk between points so great was the pain in his hip. In all, they have played seven times with Murray just edging their rivalry with four wins to three. Not that any of that matters now – this is all about Murray trying to work his way back to the best than he can be, tin hip and all.

“I’m getting there,” he said last week. “This week is better than last week. I hope next week is better than this week. That’s how I have to try to keep going to see where my limit is.

“I don’t think I’m at that limit now. I think I can keep improving. That’s what this week has shown me.”

And there is something deeply reassuring about that.

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