At this stage of a potential return to optimal singles play, Andy Murray is just looking for some playing time, not tournament trophies.
The former world No. 1 tennis player from Great Britain is set to make his debut at the Winston-Salem Open on Monday — only his second singles match since his announcement in January of plans to retire because of a lingering hip problem. Murray faces Tennys Sandgren of the United States in the first round of the ATP 250 tournament at 7 p.m.
The three-time Grand Slam champion’s appearance at the Open comes just a week after his singles return at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. He lost to Richard Gasquet in the first round of the tournament.
According to Murray, he’s simply trying to get more reps in singles matches following his hip surgery after the Australian Open, where he tearfully talked about retiring. Winning big the Winston-Salem Open isn’t necessarily on his radar, but the tournament is another building block on the road to playing at a higher level again. Murray made that clear in a press conference held at the Harold Pollard Center within the Wake Forest Tennis Complex on Sunday afternoon.
“My expectations are pretty low. I’m not really thinking about winning events like this,” Murray said. “Just now, I’m trying to get matches, you know. I’m hoping by kind of the end of this year I’ll start to get back to maybe the best that I will be.
“... Hopefully my body holds up well, and with each match, physically, I’ll feel better and gain confidence as well.”
Murray’s match against Sandgren also marks the start of his campaign to solely focus on singles play.
Murray competed in Cincinnati, reaching the quarter finals with doubles partner Feliciano Lopez of Spain but ultimately lost to his older brother, Jamie Murray, and Neal Skupski. Murray said last week he would forgo playing doubles in the U.S. Open. He already planned to skip singles play at the Grand Slam.
According to Murray, the focus on singles began when scheduling became an issue. However, he noted doubles was an important aspect of his acclimation back to tennis.
“I think actually when I was in Canada, really,” said Murray, who is one of four wild cards for the Open along with Tomas Berdych, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe. “When I was playing doubles there, I was hoping to be playing doubles and actually practicing singles. But the scheduling for my matches was just not allowing that.
“It was kind of after that I was like, ‘Look, the doubles, I’ve enjoyed playing it.’ Getting scheduled to play at, you know, 10:30 in the evening was not allowing me to practice singles like I wanted.”
And on that journey through hip surgery — his second, with the first in January 2018 — there have been plenty of outspoken proponents of a return to singles. For Murray, that included names like doubles champion Bob Bryan, who also had a hip implant procedure.
Andrey Rublev of Russia, who is set to play his first-round match against Italy’s Thomas Fabbiano on Monday, was one of those players Murray gave as an example in that press conference .
“There were a lot of people post-Australian (Open), you know,” he said. “I just got messages from people, and even when I was just walking down the street, you know, people telling me to keep going, keep fighting, keep trying, which, at many times over the last few years, I kind of didn’t feel like I wanted to.
“The guy I hit with today — Andrey Rublev — after I had spoken in Australia for the first time, he was one of the first guys I bumped into in the locker room, and I didn’t know him unbelievably well. He just came up and gave me a huge hug and just said, ‘Keep trying, keep fighting.’ ... You know, it helps — it means something.”