John McEnroe believes that Andy Murray can make some major inroads at the US Open despite the Scot’s insistence that it would be “unrealistic” to think that he has any chance of winning the event.
Murray, who had hip surgery in January, will be making his first appearance at a Grand Slam tournament since he limped out of Wimbledon last summer. He began his comeback more than two months ago but pulled out of Wimbledon and has played only two tournaments since.
McEnroe, who will be part of the ESPN commentary team here, said Murray had told him that his recovery had been difficult. He said the former world No 1 had played down his chances of success over the next fortnight. It will be the first time Murray has played over the best of five sets for 14 months.
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However, McEnroe added: “In some way deflection takes away some of the pressure that he feels. You know that over in Great Britain there’s high expectations every time he steps on the court, no matter how much time he’s missed. I think it’s understandable that he wants to minimise the pressure. It’s somewhat realistic.
“But I have to add that I’ve seen some players who have made similar types of comments and gone on to win Grand Slams, being able to slide in the back door a little bit, not being the focus of attention.
“Perhaps he’s being truthful, but maybe if he can get some confidence he’ll start to become more aware of what he’s capable of. Obviously best-of-five is a lot different than best-of-three. That may help him to make at least a good run.”
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McEnroe said it was virtually impossible to predict how far Murray could go when the tournament starts on Monday but added: “Depending on how close he is to being Andy Murray, of course he has a chance against anybody. But mentally and physically in terms of how back is he in terms of his fitness and tennis? Is his hip bothering him?
“I didn’t have enough time to sit and drill him on these questions, nor do I think he would answer them to me if we did have the time. He may not even know the answer to this.
“To think he couldn’t go out and do some damage or make some inroads I think would be a mistake.To be able to go seven matches and to win those, that’s the part where I think the body and the mind are not used to that. The recovery would be more difficult.
“The cards have to play out perfectly for him, I believe, in terms of scheduling, in terms of his rest and recovery so he’d be able to really make a run at it, go at least reasonably deep in the tournament.”
McEnroe knows from personal experience how difficult it can be to come back after a lengthy break. The American won seven Grand Slam titles in his career but did not win any after the age of 25.
“My hip started bothering me,” McEnroe recalled. “I never had a surgery like Andy, but that was part of the reason I took the time off, among other things, when I took the six months off. I’m another guy who came back and I was never the same player that I was before.
“It’s a somewhat sobering and frightening thought, but you also start to realise: ‘Hey, I love the sport.’ You want to be back in the mix. From that standpoint, I’m sure he’s excited.
“I don’t know him well, but I know him well enough to know that he’s done and will continue to do everything he can to get back to as close to what he was as possible. Then he’ll be out there in some big matches. He’ll be able to appreciate all the effort he’s put in to get back.”
McEnroe said he was sure that Murray would want to end his career on his own terms. “You don’t want it to be that you can’t continue your career because of injury or that you weren’t able to play as long as you wanted to because of that.
“Then there’s the frustration. He’s been out a full year. That’s a long time to miss. I think that Roger Federer did something remarkable even taking six months off and being able to come back and win in Australia. That’s incredibly difficult to do.
“I think you see even with Novak Djokovic for a while, Stan Wawrinka, how difficult it is. That’s just a couple of guys. That’s how difficult it is to be able to bounce back and be the player that you were before, and hope to be in the future.
“There’s a lot of emotions and frustration. Mentally it takes its toll. Then physically, not knowing if a move is going to cause something that’s going to reinjure a part of your body. That’s so essential to movement, what made Murray great in the first place.”
McEnroe welcomed the presence in next week’s US Open field of almost all the best players of the last decade, including the “Big Four” and Serena Williams.
“I think it gives you an appreciation of how resilient they’ve been and how good they’ve been, that they’ve been in the mix for so long and they’re still winning most of the majors,” he said. “What particularly Roger did coming back and winning three of the next five [Grand Slam tournaments] is to me the greatest achievement in the last 40 years.
“Serena having a baby, that’s like a whole new ball game for her, to figure out how to keep herself motivated while starting a family. She got to the final of Wimbledon. Obviously in tennis the interest relies on rivalries as well as the big names. It goes without saying it’s nice to see all the top players playing again at the US Open, with a lot at stake for the end-of-the-year top gun in the men and women.”