WASHINGTON (AFP) – Andy Murray has practiced well but the former world number one admits to some anxiety as he returns to hardcourt competition for the first time in nearly 17 months.
The 31-year-old Scotsman, now ranked 838th in the world, will play his first hardcourt match since right hip surgery in January when he meets 77th-ranked American Mackenzie McDonald in a first-round match at the Washington Open.
“That’s a long time,” Murray said Saturday after enjoying a hit with English football star Wayne Rooney who now plays in the city.
“I have to see how the body responds to that, not just the hip. It felt pretty good in practice. It’s feeling better all the time.”
Murray has not played in a hardcourt event since Indian Wells last year when he lost his first match to Canada’s Vasek Pospisil but starts his run-up to the US Open hoping for a deep run to build match fitness, having played only three matches in the past year.
“That’s what I need just now,” Murray said. “I’ve not played a hardcourt match for a very long time. A lot of anxiety about that. I’m sure after the first few games out there I’ll be fine.”
Murray, who would meet fellow Briton and fourth seed Kyle Edmund if he wins his opener, withdrew from Wimbledon last month, saying it was too soon after surgery for five-set matches.
Murray returned last month with a loss to Australia’s Nick Kyrgios at Queens, then beat Stan Wawrinka and lost to Edmund at Eastbourne – all on grass.
“It takes a long time after you have been out to get the match fitness back,” Murray said. “I need to get back on the match court and see how I come through two, three, four, five matches in a week. I’ve done pretty well in practice.”
Murray said he began working out on hardcourts as Wimbledon began to build his fitness for this week. He has a wild card into Cincinnati in two weeks as preparation for the US Open, which starts August 27 in New York.
It’s the third trip to Washington for Murray, who lost the 2006 final to France’s Arnaud Clement. He was the top seed in 2015 but lost his first match to Russian Teymuraz Gabashvili.
The main target for this year, Murray said, is to play as much as he can in order to be fully prepared for the start of the 2019 campaign.
“I want to stay healthy through the end of the year,” Murray said. “If I do that, I’ll win more matches and my ranking will move up. If I stay fit and healthy, I’ll play more against the best players and that will improve my fitness. I’ll be ready to start the 2019 season really well.”
Murray exchanged a few practice rallies Saturday with British compatriot Rooney, who came to Washington earlier this month to play for DC United of Major League Soccer.
Murray said he has not started thinking about the twilight of his career after being idled so long.
“I’ll play until I’m not able to anymore at a level I’m happy with,” Murray said. “Long term, I haven’t thought about that.”