Andy Murray is confident of being back to the peak of his physical powers in time for the 2020 Australian Open after making his competitive singles return.
The former world number one was back on court as a singles player on Monday for the first time since having a metal plate inserted into his hip joint last January – surgery which saved his career.
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Although he lost 6-4 6-4 to Richard Gasquet at the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati, there were positive signs for Murray, who nevertheless opted to turn down a US Open wildcard invitation.
Murray will still compete in the men’s and mixed doubles at the US Open but was not allowed to delay a decision to accept a singles wildcard at Flushing Meadows until he had more game time and practice.
He intends to play a full schedule in the Asian swing of the ATP tour in the autumn and hopes to be back to his best in time for January’s Australian Open.
It was in Melbourne where he played his last singles match, losing to Roberto Bautista Agut just days after announcing his intention to retire, so it would complete a remarkable turnaround for the two-time Wimbledon champion.
“I think nine to 12 months after the operation is when I would expect to be getting close to the best that I can be physically – and speed wise I should be fully recovered by 12 months,” Murray told BBC Sport.
“Speeds have improved, but they are quite linear speeds, and repeatable tests, whereas on a match court you are changing direction and having to react to balls and anticipate.
“The way to get that back is by playing matches. You can hit as many speed targets as you like, but once you get out on court it’s very different. I don’t feel I was very slow out on the court (against Gasquet), but I was not as quick as I would have liked.”
Despite his absence from Flushing Meadows, Murray says he will have his foot to the pedal in terms of stepping up his comeback, with three tournaments in Asia slated in.
And he says only time on the court will get him back to his best in terms of his tennis.
“I’m certainly not going to go backwards from here,” he added.
“Every time I’ve practised singles so far, it’s all just been practice sets because I was trying to get back on the match court.
“But once you actually get out there and start playing you realise, ‘Wow,’ my return needs to get better, I need to improve my serve. I need to get myself on the practice court and work on those things specifically.
“It will be exciting and interesting to see how I get on.
“It’s not something that’s been tried or done before in tennis. Hopefully if it goes well it will be an option for more athletes down the line.”