Andy Murray willing to play through pain to defend his Wimbledon title
If Andy Murray reaches the final of the 131st Wimbledon, he will surely be as sore and spent as on any of the previous three occasions he has contested the title, because no amount of upbeat chat can disguise either the discomfort of his aching hip or the magnitude of the unknown challenge ahead of him.
Murray insists all is well with an injury that is not only at least seven years old but last week hurt so much he knew he could not defend his title unless he gave it complete rest. That is more than a minor niggle.
To his credit, he came through the first examination of his resolve with a quick and convincing win over the world No135 Alexander Bublik in the first round on Monday and now prepares for an altogether different contest against his friend Dustin Brown on Wednesday.
“It is something I have been dealing with since I was 22 or 23 years old, off and on,” he said before heading for yet another ice bath. “It is sore, but I get through it. It is not like a horrific injury in my knee. In time, it is something I need to look after.
“After the [French Open semi-final] match with Stan Wawrinka, I thought I was just a bit sore because it was such a long, tough match and I had not played many of those over the last couple of months. But then it did not really get better.
“I was practising a lot on grass and preparing for Queen’s and my hip was getting gradually worse. Then I said: ‘I need to stop now because this is actually affecting the way I am playing and affecting my practices.’ I knew if I had to go on court like that I could not serve and hobble around and get through matches. I needed to get ready to play and that meant taking a break.”
Logic – or what passes for it in modern tennis – suggests Murray should beat Brown handily when the world No1 plays the man ranked 97th. Yet the application of reason has turned nearly every expert into the tennis equivalent of Michael Fish lately. At Roland Garros, Murray beat the odds to reach the semi-finals for the fourth time despite looking drained to the point of collapse at the start of the fortnight; here, he retrieved much of his credibility against Bublik after losing to the world No90 Jordan Thompson in the first round at Queen’s.
If that theory needed supporting, evidence arrived on Court No2 on Tuesday when world No486 Thanasi Kokkinakis saved six match points before losing to the 2009 US champion Juan Martín del Potro in four tight sets over three hours. This is a desperately difficult tournament in which to pick winners with the certainty of old.
Murray acknowledges Brown’s threat, even though he took only eight games off the Scot in the second round of the 2010 US Open. Brown, a well-travelled pro who has added discipline to his widely recognised gifts, will probably do better here on grass than the hardcourt of Flushing Meadows when his career was still meandering a little. He beat Rafael Nadal in four sets in the second round here two years ago, although the Spaniard had compiled a woeful record at the All England Club since winning his two titles.
Johanna Konta, the host country’s best hope in the women’s draw, looked back to her impressive best beating her French Open nemesis Hsieh Su-wei in just over an hour on Monday; on Wednesday she plays another recent conqueror in Donna Vekic, but brings greater momentum this time.
The 21-year-old Croatian, who got the better of Konta last month, conceded: “She is definitely the favourite. It doesn’t matter that I beat her in Nottingham, it was different circumstances. I played very well in Nottingham, I had a very good rhythm and my game was going less up and down than usual.
“Maybe I will have a chance in that she will feel more pressure than me, especially on Centre Court. I don’t have much to lose. If I serve well I will have a chance and if I want to beat her I must play my best tennis.”