BY THE time the grass-court season is completed in a month’s time, Andy Murray could have a third Wimbledon title in the bag, an achievement which would equal that of Fred Perry, with whose name he has been entwined throughout his career.
The winner in 2013 and again last year, Murray is the bookmakers’ favourite for the title next month, just ahead of a resurgent Roger Federer.
And yet, despite the fact that a third Wimbledon title would further cement his position as the world No 1, Murray yesterday found himself in the strange position of having to discuss – yet again – his future at the top of the game.
Earlier this week, Murray told the BBC that he may have only a couple of years left at the very top, such were the physical demands on players and the effort he has put his body through to get there.
In an era when players have never been fitter, it was a sensible comment, typically nuanced and balanced by Murray, who has never been one to make outlandish comments about his own ability.
For those whose job it is to worry about life after Andy Murray, it probably caused mild panic but at Queen’s Club yesterday where he will chase a sixth Aegon Championships title this week, the man himself was more bemused than anything else.
“Right now I’m ranked No 1 in the world and I’m talking about stopping playing, it’s a strange position to be in,” he said.
“So long as I’m fit and healthy and enjoying playing, I’ll do it as long as I can. I don’t want to stop in two years, I want to keep playing. Who knows where I am going to be in a few years?”
Such are the vagaries of the ranking system that if Murray fails to win a third Wimbledon title, his place as No 1 will be under increased threat.
Murray knows better than anyone the effort he has made to get to the top and he’s not about to let it go without a fight, even if he knows it will be difficult.
“It’s always tough to stay at the top of any sport,” he said. “I hope I stay at the top of the game for five, six, seven years but I think just because Roger (Federer)’s done it doesn’t mean that’s going to happen to everyone.
“That’s not going to be the case. Realistically, I want to make the most of the last few years of my career, if that’s two years, four years, or six years, doesn’t matter.”
Defending his Wimbledon title is likely to be incentive enough for Murray to find his best form when it matters most, having snapped out of a slump by reaching the semi-finals of the French Open just 11 days ago.
Should he win there, it would give him a fourth grand slam title, which, combined with his two gold medals, No 1 ranking and Davis Cup title, would add weight to an already incredible career.
It is human nature, though, to compare the careers of the top players and it is a bare fact, as John McEnroe pointed out in a Sunday Times magazine article yesterday, that he has not won as many grand slam titles as Federer, Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic.
McEnroe said Murray has “always been top four, but it’s been a distant fourth. In a way, he’s still a distant fourth.”
The former world No 1 said Murray’s achievement in getting to the top was “tremendous” but that “these three guys are better than him”. “No disrespect,” he said. “They’re better overall. But you’re talking about three of the five greatest players that ever lived, so it’s a tall order.”
Murray accepted McEnroe’s comments as fair, when considered overall, but said he is proud of his own achievements.
“If you look at the titles and everything those guys have won, I mean, I can’t compare myself to them,” he said. “There’s maybe one or two things that I have done that they won’t have but for the most part I would have been fourth.”
“But it’s not true of the last year because I’m ranked No 1 in the world. I’ve been better than them for the last 12 months, that’s how the ranking systems work. It took me a long time to get there.
“It’s not true of the last year but in terms of the career as a whole, then if I could swap careers with those guys I obviously would because they’ve won a lot more than me.”
What he wouldn’t swap, though, is his two gold medals, from 2012 and 2016, something that puts him ahead of the rest.
“It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks,” he said. “I’m very proud of the Olympic medals, they mean a lot to me.
“Within tennis, a lot of people just go “oh that guy was a better player because he won more grand slams than that one or that woman was better because she won more grand slams”.
“Everyone’s criteria for judging a player will be different. If it’s purely on grand slams, then my Olympic medals mean nothing to that person but they mean a lot to me.”
None of his rivals and in fact, no one in history, has won the Aegon Championships more than Murray, who picked up the trophy for the fifth time 12 months ago.
Having entered the French Open still anxious about his form, with those five wins under his belt, he is more relaxed now as he tries to make the perfect start to the grasscourt season.
“I am happier with where my game is at,” he said. “Obviously I am playing better now than I was before the French.
“In practice, I am hitting the ball a lot better than I was before the start of the tournament there.
“This surface is a little bit more natural for me, which helps, but I have had to practice a lot this week.”
Murray will begin his title bid here tomorrow against another Briton, Aljaz Bedene, while his brother, Jamie Murray, should arrive in good spirits today after picking up the title in Stuttgart yesterday.
When they lost in the quarter-finals in Paris, there had been one or two hints that Murray and Soares may be tiring of each other but yesterday, they held firm to beat Austria’s Olivier Marach and Mate Pavic of Croatia 6-7, 7-5, 10-8.
“We had a few close losses this year and it was nice to see it through and get it over the line and get another trophy,” Murray said.