Andy Murray was blessed. He hadn’t played a match in 11 months until Tuesday at The Queen’s Club. He knew he would be nervous. His expectations were low, but of course, he wanted to compete. He got his wish when the draw was announced. His first opponent: Nick Kyrgios. A friend and practice partner, Murray had a sound 5-0 record against him. None of that mattered. What mattered was Sir Andy Murray was back on grass at a tournament he loves and had won a record five times.
This year, though, Murray will not win his sixth title at this prestigious location. Kyrgios beat Murray, 2-6, 7-6(4), 7-5.
“I’m not expecting to win against Kyrgios,” Murray said, during a recent conversation on The Tennis Podcast. “I don’t think it’d be right to think that way after a long time out. But I want to be competitive.”
The match was entertaining, as per usual in encounters that feature Kyrgios. His full repertoire of tweeners, twirling overhead smashes, and drop shots obviously tapped with soft hands was on display.
“The full Nick Kyrgios experience,” Justin Gimelstob said, calling the match for Tennis Channel.
At the same time, Murray’s professionalism and drive to compete raised the stakes. In the opening set Murray broke to 4-2 after a 17-point game. Kyrgios had four opportunities to close it. However, one of his biggest assets on grass — power — was hidden. Instead his tactics were comically cagey, demonstrating poor choices when an obvious route would have been to blast Murray off the court while making him run. After all, Murray hadn’t played a match in 11 months.
“I’m so excited for Andy,” Roger Federer said, as noted by Jose Morgado on Twitter. “It’s so good to have him back. I was happy he didn’t withdraw from Queen’s. He needs to enjoy the comeback; he’s a winner.”
Murray lost the match when he double faulted, one of eight doubles on Tuesday. At that point he seemed to have an ever-so-slight hitch to his gait, a distressing sight for those who watched him limp through his five-set loss to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon last year.
Murray’s recovery and rehabilitation moved forward after his hip surgery in January. Cautious about returning too soon, he started to play sets only two weeks ago.
“I wanted to be sure that when I woke up I didn’t feel bad,” Murray told The Tennis Podcast about waiting until 30 minutes before the draw was closed to play Queen’s.
Last year Murray came in as the number one player in the world. He was seeded number one at Queen’s. However he lost in the first round (to Jordan Thompson), which was almost a good thing.
“I haven’t been able to play for a year now,” he continued. “It’s been tough. You look at things a little bit differently as you get older. I’m hoping those will help me get through the comeback.”
Murray seems to be viewing his comeback through a long lens.
“I don’t know if this week I’m going to be playing well or if it will be in three or four weeks’ time,” he said. “Maybe in three, four months when I’ve had a bit more matches under my belt, hopefully I’ll be able to get back to that that level.”
“You want to perform, you want to play,” he said while seeming to acknowledge that nerves would be in play against Kyrgios. “In terms of my expectations, they are really low.”
But if Murray played Kyrgios with low expectations, we should expect fireworks spraying out of his racquets at Wimbledon. Murray’s performance ran from breathtaking to fumbling, yes, but his ability to anticipate, his foot speed, and his sheer tenacity were in high gear most of the match. Only when Kyrgios made a concerted effort late in the third did the outcome lean in his favor.
“We’re good mates,” Kyrgios said after the match, per The Guardian. “I was thinking it out there: just great to see him back, healthy. That’s the most important thing. I was expecting him to come out and see the ball well. He’s a legend of the sport. I wasn’t expecting anything else, to be honest.”
Kyrgios needed three match points to close out the win, which was his first ever in his four appearances at The Queen’s Club.
Murray’s goals for his career were altered during his time off court. He missed the sport and the competition, something he’s been engaged in for over half his life. Now 31, he first started his career at 15. Don’t misunderstand him, though: He still wants the big titles. He still wants to return to number one. Yet, they are not what’s most important. Not in the present moment.
“It’s not about winning major competitions,” he told The Tennis Podcast. “I’d love to do that but it’s not the most important thing.”
Murray’s motivation now has steered toward family and, more specifically, his eldest daughter Sophia.
“One of the things that I would like to do is play until my eldest daughter is able to watch me and have a small understanding of what it is I’ve done for my living,” Murray said, as Good To Know reported in January.
Murray’s loss is still a big score for tennis, after all is said and done. Rightly or not, he has been one of the so-called Big Four for many years. He has consistently executed a versatile style of tennis, earning 45 titles with return-of-serve stats that rival another friend, Novak Djokovic. But it is Murray’s footspeed and athleticism that stand out. Those were noticeable, once again, on Tuesday. Even though British fans would have loved a win for “their Andy,” they can at least settle for a comeback match that certainly surpassed all expectations, even — perhaps — those belonging to Andy Murray.