ANDY MURRAY’S announcement earlier this week that he had undergone hip surgery was greeted with dismay by the tennis world and beyond but his optimism that he will get back to his best was encouraging to hear.
He has stated that he hopes to return to competitive action by the time the grass court season rolls around, which is mid-June time, meaning that by that point, Murray will have been off the tour for almost a year. This is an unspeakably long time for any elite athlete, but particularly one who is in his thirties.
Murray is, clearly, not exactly a geriatric but at the age of 30, is it a fact that his body will recover slower than it did a decade ago. He has had injury lay-offs before in his career, but none have been for this long and every other injury has occurred when he was a relatively youthful twenty-something, or even younger.
Murray’s body has taken a considerable beating in the past fifteen years and it seems that his hip issue is as a result of the wear and tear that his body has been subjected to.
It is clear to see the strain that is put on Murray’s body during tournament play – three-and-a-half or four hour matches in the grand slams are relatively commonplace for the two-time Wimbledon champion but in fact, more often than not, it is the hammering that elite athletes bodies take in training rather than in competition that is the killer.
In almost every case, it is the hours and hours of time on the training court and in the gym that breaks your body down, not the few hundred competitive matches throughout a career that does the damage.
It will be interesting to see what Murray’s come back looks like. The early days of the rehabilitation following a major operation are almost always mind-numbingly boring. Low level exercises are the extent of any training that can be done and the road to full fitness is rarely completely bump-free.
Men’s tennis has been decimated in recent years with injuries to the top players; Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Rafa Nadal have all had extended absences and that’s before you even get to the players outwith the big four.
Of those three players, their comebacks have had varying degrees of success, with both Federer and Nadal’s time out of the game doing them the world of good, while Djokovic is still nowhere near back to his best.
Part of the challenge of coming back from injury is, of course, the physical side of it but you don’t need to have been at the level of these grand slam champions to appreciate the mental strain that comes with returning to a world-class level after a significant period of time out.
There are, first of all, the doubts that inevitably creep in. It is hard to believe that even the very best are entirely immune to any kind of self-doubt. And following a serious injury, particularly having undergone an operation, there is often a sub-conscious fear that comes into play which affects recovery.
I know that when I was rehabbing back from my knee operation in the lead-up to London 2012, it was not any issues with my knee that caused me problems, it was the knock-on effect on the rest of my body that was really hard to cope with.
Cortisone injections in my foot and strapping right down the entire right side of my body were as a direct result of my mind sub-consciously protecting my knee and so dispersing the strain elsewhere.
Of course, rehab is an entirely individual process. But it shouldn’t be underestimated quite how taxing it can be both physically and mentally to come back following surgery, particularly for someone like Murray who has been at the very top of the tree.
He has said that he would be happy returning to the game at all, even if that means he is only ranked around 30 in the world. It is hard to believe that a man who has gone into every grand slam in the past eight or nine years with the sense that anything less than the winner’s trophy would be a disappointment would be content with plodding along as the thirtieth best player in the world.
But that’s the thing with recovering from serious injury – it is entirely unpredictable and there are no guarantees. Federer and Nadal have successfully managed it – let’s hope that Murray joins them.