China swing is Andy’s acid test

Murray says tournaments in Zhuhai, Beijing and Shanghai are ideal gauge of ongoing recovery

Andy Murray says his singles comeback is entering a critical phase as he begins a three-tournament Chinese swing.

The former world No 1 is using events in Zhuhai, Beijing and Shanghai to gauge his recovery from January surgery to repair a hip injury that sidelined him for two years.

“I have no pain in my hip anymore, so that’s a positive thing,” Murray told China Daily ahead of his first-round match against American Tennys Sandgren at the Zhuhai Championships in Guangdong province.

“My muscles are still recovering, so I sometimes feel a little bit slow on the court. I’m hoping that with playing more at this level I’ll start to get a little bit faster.

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“I don’t know how far I’m going to be able to get now on my comeback. I don’t know how much improving I still have to do or if I’m going to be able to do it. I’m in no pain just now, so I might as well give it a shot and see how far I can go with the recovery.

“But I think after these tournaments, I’ll definitely have a better idea of where I’m at.”

Ultimately, Murray wants to return to the level that has been good enough to earn him 45 singles titles, including three Grand Slams (2012 US Open, 2013 and 2016 Wimbledon).

The ATP 250 Zhuhai tournament, relocated from Shenzhen, kicks off a three-week China section on the tour that also includes the 500 China Open in Beijing and the 1000 Masters series stop in Shanghai.

Murray then plans to travel to Belgium for the European Open in Antwerp (Oct 14-20).Back in his prime, when he could expect a deep run in Shanghai, such scheduling was unheard of for the Scot, who is now ranked 413th in the world.

“I wouldn’t have done that in the past,” said Murray, a three-time winner in Shanghai (2010, 2011 and 2016) and the 2016 champion in Beijing.

“The position I’m in just now is different. I’m not playing at the same level as I was three years ago. I’m not guaranteed to win matches every single week.

“I would like to try to get 12 to 15 matches between now and the end of the year so my body gets used to competing and playing matches consistently again.

“I haven’t really done that for two years. It’s been a really long time coming. It takes time for your body to be able to build up that robustness.”

After easing back into competition by dabbling in doubles earlier in the year, Murray made his return to singles action at August’s Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he fell to a straight-sets defeat to French veteran Richard Gasquet.

Murray again failed to register a set in a first-round loss to Zhuhai opponent Sandgren at the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina.

The two-time Olympic champion then competed at an ATP Challenger Tour event at Rafa Nadal’s academy in Mallorca.

Murray reached the third round on the Spanish island, eventually losing in three sets to Italian Matteo Viola.

“The second match I played in Mallorca was quite good. I beat a player ranked 120 in the world (Slovakian Norbert Gombos) in two sets, which was a pretty good win,” Murray told ATP.com.

“Then in the third match, physically I struggled a lor but felt like I was hitting the ball better in those matches than I did over in the States. That was a positive.”

Winning at least one match at each tournament in China could be considered progress, Murray reckons.

For now, simply building up his speed and stamina are priorities for the 32-year-old on the arduous road to recovery.

“I think physically I still have a lot of improving to do if I want to get back to competing on the tour at the highest level because it showed there (in Spain) that I wasn’t quite ready to play many matches in a row,” he said.

Arriving in Zhuhai almost a week before his first match, Murray seemed to be enjoying his stay in the coastal city, where on Sunday he made an appearance at a five-a-side soccer charity tournament.

“We get looked after really well. Every time we come to China, all the tournaments I’ve played at, it’s a really nice facility for the players,” he said.

“I think the center court is a nice stadium. Good gym and the food on site is really good.”

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