The lush grass of Queen’s Club should inspire Andy Murray this week, according to old rival Novak Djokovic. But he added that it could also be a high-risk strategy to return on this notoriously slippery surface after more than 11 months out with a hip injury.
Murray is normally so sure-footed on the centre court here in west London that he has won a record five Queen’s titles. After such a long lay-off, though, he could be forgiven for moving gingerly when he faces Nick Kyrgios in his comeback appearance on Tuesday.
“I don’t know the state of his hips,” said Djokovic. “But the one thing that could be a bit dangerous is slipping on the grass. That’s something that is very unpredictable and grass is always this kind of surface where one wrong footing can make something go wrong, especially in the hips. I just hope for his sake that doesn’t happen.”
Murray has at least been scheduled to play on Tuesday, by which time some of the initial moisture should have worked its way out of the lawn. Day one is usually the trickiest at Queen’s, as Murray’s brother Jamie pointed out in a tweet a couple of years ago.
“Players can’t practise on it in the lead-up so court doesn’t get bedded in and is very lush,” wrote the elder Murray. “It makes for a lot of uncertainty/caution for the players’ movement and mind.”
The mental challenge will be all the greater for Murray because of his recent hip trouble, which he admitted on Saturday has left him with inescapable pain. In a couple of practice matches this week, he looked short of his old explosivity. But once the adrenalin of official competition has kicked in, he may well be a different player.
“I feel like I let go a lot more, move a bit freer [in matches],” Murray told reporters at the weekend. “Whereas in practice, the tendency can be to hold back a little.”
Djokovic is very well qualified to comment on the stiff climb that still lies in front of Murray.
He too has been trying to rediscover his most lethal form since undergoing what he described as “a small medical intervention” on his right elbow in February.
Djokovic’s own stuttering progress took a leap forward last month in Rome, where he is so popular that he is treated almost as an honorary Italian.
Andy Murray hip medical opinion
The mood at Queen’s tends to be more reserved than it is at the Foro Italico, but even these quintessentially British fans will surely make themselves heard when Murray plays his first official match for 342 days. “He needs that support,” said Djokovic on Sunday. “He needs people to back him up, to be behind him and show him that he was missed. I know how that feels. Having a couple of weeks at home, these are the events where he will give 100 per cent to try to get out on the court.
“He has been absent for longer than I have,” said Djokovic, in a thoughtful press conference that marked his first appearance at the Fever-Tree Championships since 2010. “I don’t know how painful it is still, or not, for him to move around.
“But I think the biggest challenge will always be mental. In my situation that was the case. How to get it out of your head, understand that it’s behind you, that you’re fine now, that you’re healthy and you can focus on your game rather than thinking 50 per cent of the time about whether or not something can happen.
“Does it hurt me? Does it not hurt me? Am I imagining things? Is it real? Is it not real?
“Then 50 per cent of the time you are thinking about your tactics and what you have to execute.
“If you don’t have mental clarity on the court, especially on grass where everything happens very quickly, it’s very difficult to play.”