‘My brain was telling my leg to move but it wouldn’t. My mus­cles were just switched off ’

Andy Mur­ray re­veals pain en­dured to win first ti­tle since surgery, writes Si­mon Briggs in An­twerp

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Tennis -

To put Andy Mur­ray’s ti­tle-win­ning run in An­twerp into per­spec­tive, it is worth re­mem­ber­ing where he was in Fe­bru­ary: sit­ting in a chair with his body bolt up­right, be­cause he could not put the slight­est flex­ion into the joint of his right hip.

The pre­vi­ous week, Mur­ray had un­der­gone the sec­ond ma­jor op­er­a­tion of his ca­reer. To the unini­ti­ated, a “hip resur­fac­ing” might sound like a con­ve­nient key­hole job in which a few bumps are smoothed out. But the truth is more dras­tic: this is a par­tial re­place­ment in which a metal cap is placed on the top of the fe­mur, slot­ting into a metal socket in the pelvis.

To re­move the dam­aged car­ti­lage in Mur­ray’s arthritic joint, his mighty leg mus­cles had to be slashed open. Only then could the hard­ware – which, hap­pily, has no nerve end­ings and thus no feel­ing – be im­planted. So to have re­built him­self phys­i­cally over the past nine months is tes­ta­ment to his pa­tience, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and ex­traor­di­nary tol­er­ance for pain.

“I would sit in a chair and try to touch the ground,” Mur­ray said. “Ev­ery day you chip away and you go a mil­lime­tre fur­ther. It seems like noth­ing and th­ese are the lit­tle things that you find frus­trat­ing.

“Or I would do this.” He hopped nim­bly out of his seat, lay on his side with his knees slightly bent, and lifted the top knee up­wards in an ex­er­cise known as the clamshell. “The first day, my brain was telling it to move, but it wouldn’t. Th­ese mus­cles were just to­tally switched off. And I found that to be the most tir­ing thing men­tally. That stuff, do­ing it ev­ery day, you feel a bit sorry for your­self and you’re like, ‘my leg doesn’t even want to move’. It’s te­dious.

“But then af­ter like week two, three, four it starts to come back. I spoke to the ice hockey player Ed Jo­vanovski, who had the op­er­a­tion and got back to play­ing in the NHL af­ter eight months. He told me that the re­hab was hard but that his hip was bril­liant at the end of it and the rea­son why he didn’t con­tinue play­ing for longer is that he was 39. So I knew that if I did it prop­erly I might have a chance. I just didn’t know if it was go­ing to work out for me or not.”

The an­swer can no longer be in doubt. In An­twerp, Mur­ray won five matches in six days, fin­ish­ing up with a 2hr

27 min show­down against old foe Stan Wawrinka. In that fi­nal

– and also in Satur­day’s semi-fi­nal against stylish French­man Ugo Hum­bert

– he was out­gunned, but still man­aged to run a suc­cess­ful guer­rilla cam­paign based around de­fence and the oc­ca­sional coun­ter­punch. Cru­cially, his body was up to the task. In ex­plo­siv­ity, he is per­haps a few per cent off the old max­i­mum that led one for­mer fit­ness trainer to com­pare him to Usain Bolt. Even so, he re­mains quicker than most. Fac­tor in his self-be­lief and men­tal stamina, and Mur­ray is in­tim­i­dat­ing op­po­nents again. Not so much with his fire­power, which has room for im­prove­ment, but with his gran­ite-jawed re­fusal to back down. Once he had

fin­ished demon­strat­ing his re­hab ex­er­cises, Mur­ray and the three mem­bers of his team – coach Jamie Del­gado, fit­ness trainer Matt Lit­tle and physio Shane An­nun – went into the cen­tre of An­twerp for din­ner. “We’d agreed that we would do that [eat out] even if I lost,” Mur­ray ex­plained, “although I wouldn’t have been good com­pany.”

He is in­creas­ingly de­ter­mined to cel­e­brate suc­cess. Dur­ing th­ese trou­ble­some past 2½ years, much of which he spent on the sofa, he came to re­alise that he used to take some parts of this un­usual life­style for granted. An­other as­pect of Mur­ray’s game which he has been hop­ing to ad­dress is the sar­cas­tic backchat that he tends to throw at his team when stressed.

Un­for­tu­nately, the ev­i­dence of last week – when he rou­tinely turned to his cor­ner with a grouchy re­mark – sug­gests that it is now hard-wired into his ner­vous sys­tem. Even so, he hopes that Del­gado and com­pany will con­tinue to put up with his rants. “It’s some­thing I wish I didn’t do,” he said when asked about all the chunter­ing. “I would find that an­noy­ing if I was coach­ing. But it’s some­thing that I have strug­gled to change over the years. I do try and do ev­ery­thing that they tell me. I am al­ways ques­tion­ing, espe­cially as I get older, like ‘Why am I do­ing that?’ But I do it and I work hard ev­ery day.

“Would you rather have some­one be­ing a pest on the court but fight­ing for ev­ery point and work­ing as hard as they can? Or some­one who is not try­ing hard and not do­ing what they’re say­ing?” The ques­tion an­swers it­self.

Come­back king: Andy Mur­ray won the Euro­pean Open eight months af­ter ma­jor surgery on his trou­ble­some hip

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