By Richard Evans
The Wimbledon Champion eventually discarded his sweat-soaked yellow adidas T-shirt and gave his muscled torso a little dose of the Florida sun.
Under the eagle eye of coach Ivan Lendl, Andy Murray was entering his third hour of practice on the Centre Court at Crandon Park, the site of the Sony Ericsson Championships on Key Biscayne.
Day by day, Murray has been working his way back to full fitness after his back surgery in September. He looks good and his fitness team of Jez Green and Matt Little are well pleased with his progress.
“The plan is to him to play an exhibition on December 26th in Abu Dhabi,” said Green. “That seems a realistic target. He is not feeling any pain after these sessions. That’s the main thing. Sore, of course, but that’s only natural.”
The sessions keep Green occupied from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm. That’s how hard these athletes work to get their bodies back in shape after a hiatus. And it’s not all fun in the sun. Every day Murray has an ice bath before making the short journey back to his bay-side apartment on Miami’s Brickell Avenue.
When Murray announced that he would need back surgery, critics were forced to scale back their sometimes snide remarks about Murray’s tendency to wince and groan and prod his back during matches. The fact is that he won the US Open and Wimbledon and reached the final of the Australian Open when he was even less fit than most of the players who take the court with their routine aches and pains.
“The surgeon shaved away a piece of the bone that was pressing on a nerve every time Andy reached for a high backhand,” said Green. “That was why he had such a tough clay court season (defaulting in Rome and not playing Roland Garros). With those high bounces it was just impossible. Kick serves out wide to the backhand? Forget it. The pain would shoot down his leg. The US Open wasn’t great but Wimbledon, with the lower bounce, was something he could handle.”
Revelations like that put Murray’s achievements into ever sharper focus. Without doubt, he’s one tough Scot.
The question now is: How much better can he become if his movement is totally free and he can play without pain?
“We shall see,” says the ever realistic Lendl. “Everything is good so far although I would like to see him moving a little more. But it takes time. You can’t expect too much after three months not hitting a ball.”
Murray was hitting plenty of balls on Key Biscayne, all of them echoing in the cavernous emptiness of a 15,000 seat stadium occupied by no more than two dozen people. On the other side of the net, his best friend, Ross Hutchins, and the very promising young Briton, Kyle Edmund, were looking pretty good themselves as they went through quick-fire volleying routines.
It was especially good to see Hutchins back on court and playing so well after his bout with cancer. He, too, will be returning to the tour in the New Year in Australia, resuming his partnership with Colin Fleming.
For both Murray and Hutchins it will be a new year and a new beginning. And if Andy is fitter than before, who knows what he can achieve.
Richard Evans has covered tennis since the 1960s, reporting on more than 160 Grand Slams. He is author of 16 books, including the official history of the Davis Cup and the unofficial history of the modern game in "Open Tennis." He was the play-by-play commentator for BBC Radio at Wimbledon for twenty years.