What can Andy Murray learn from his rivals as he makes his comeback?

By Yashas Mudumbai

Thirteen matches. That was all we saw of Andy Murray in 2018 and as the new season rolls around, there is still a level of apprehension as to what form, if any, he will show.

The hip still pains him, and he recently acknowledged he needs to play matches and see how it feels.

Despite this, the former world number one can take solace from other players who have suffered debilitating injuries and made remarkable comebacks.

What can he learn from them?

Work on the strengths rather than weaknesses

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Ahead of the 2012 Australian Open, Roger Federer was asked how hard he worked on his supposedly weak backhand over the years.

He said: “I’m a big fan of working on your strengths actually because your weaknesses are going to improve by itself as everyone will play to your weakness.”

While those comments didn’t come as a result of Federer going through the turmoil of an injury, another Grand Slam champion took the advice to heart in his comeback from a second wrist surgery.

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Juan Martín del Potro’s wrist trouble left him unable to roll over his two-handed backhand and he would often slice, allowing opponents to take control.

Rather than going through the pain of tirelessly improving his backhand, the Argentine worked on his powerful serve and fearsome forehand to reach the summit of the ATP World Tour again.

In 2016, del Potro put down 277 aces throughout the season. In 2017, this figure rose to 460 and last year, the 2009 US Open champion delivered a staggering 555 aces.

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These changes, along with running around to hit more forehands, have seen him have two stellar seasons when many doubted if he would ever reach the top 100 again.

Murray could see this and instead of working on his second serve and forehand, why not look to improve his already brilliant backhand and court sense?

Attack the net more than ever

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Murray’s generation of player undoubtedly felt more comfortable near the baseline and made their name through mesmerising passing shots and sensational movement.

Yet, as age catches up on these athletes, they need to change their style of play and Murray needs to look no further than his three great rivals.

Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all endured months away from the tour nursing injuries but in their comeback, they realised their old style may not work.

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They started to work on the net play more in training and translated that into the matches to stage one of the great revivals in sporting history.

As shown by the below graphic, all three significantly increased their approaches to the net at the first majors they won since their comeback compared to the previous year.

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Murray himself is a fantastic volleyer and does not make use of those skills enough but, now that he is 31, it may be time to rush the net to add to his three Grand Slam singles crowns.

Getting the old band back together

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As well as the net play, there is one more thing Murray should take notice of from Djokovic if he wants to reach the pinnacle of his sport again.

Djokovic, after winning four majors in a row, went through a year of disappointment and struggle.

During that time, he went from one coach to another, from one fitness programme together and even employed a spiritual guru in Pepe Imaz.

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Ultimately though, what really turned his fortunes was when he got Marián Vajda, his mentor, back involved because he knew him best and what was required at the time.

Whether Murray can lure Ivan Lendl and physical trainer Jez Green back is still unknown, but he should still try.

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They were with him during the best years of his career and with that team, there would be no reason to not believe in achieving something special again.

The current world number 256 may never have faced a bigger challenge in his career so far, but at least Murray knows the task ahead of him is not impossible.

He just needs to take a look around.

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