After falling to top seed Dominic Thiem in his ATP Tour quarter-final since his second right hip surgery on 28 January, former World No. 1 Andy Murray took time to reflect on a positive week of improvement at the China Open.
For the first time this season, the Brit scored back-to-back tour-level victories to reach the last eight in China and showed signs of his best level throughout his clash against BNP Paribas Open titlist Thiem. Following wins against US Open finalist Matteo Berrettini and countryman Cameron Norrie, Murray is now confident that he can challenge all players on the ATP Tour.
“I’m playing well enough to be competitive at this level against all of the players,” said Murray. “Maybe not quite consistent enough just now to beat maybe the top players. But I think against guys that are No. 10 or No. 20 in the world, I can compete well against them just now.
“I think I need a few more weeks of playing matches like this. [I need] two, three or four matches in a week, trying to play consistently well in all of those matches to say I’m playing Top 20 tennis or something like that. But I’m getting there.
“This week is better than last week. I hope next week is better than this week. That’s how I have to try to keep going to see where my limit is. I don’t think I’m at that limit now. I think I can keep improving. That’s what this week has shown me.”
Since Murray’s return to singles action at the Western & Southern Open in August, the 32-year-old has showcased his signature fighting spirit on the court. Murray earned his first tour-level victory since his return in Zhuhai last week before an encouraging three-set battle against eventual champion Alex de Minaur.
With two wins and a competitive showing against Nitto ATP Finals contender Thiem this week, Murray is positive that his level is continuing to rise with each passing week.
“I think this was maybe the best in terms of how I played since I came back. It was great for me. I played three matches in four days, which is quite a lot,” said Murray. “Actually, I felt better than I expected today, as well… It was just another step for me. I wasn’t expecting to go from here to my highest level or winning tournaments straight away. Everything has kind of been a pretty gradual progress for me. This week was another step in the right direction.”
Murray also sees room for improvement after his loss to the World No. 5. The 45-time tour-level titlist, who admitted to feeling tired before the match, reflected on his change of approach to the contest after losing a marathon opening game to the Austrian on Diamond Court.
“I was feeling a little bit tired this morning,” said Murray. “We talked about, ‘If you are feeling that way, try to finish off some of the points’.
“I feel like I was playing the right way in the first game. When I lost that, I felt like I needed to try and finish the points a little bit quicker. I wasn’t that happy with the way I went about the match after the first game. I went a bit off track there at first in terms of how I was playing.”
But while Murray seeks to improve in certain areas, the three-time Grand Slam champion also recognises the progress he has already made in other areas of his game. Murray has noticed a marked improvement in his movement, which has proven to be one of his major strengths throughout his career on the ATP Tour.
“Last week felt like quite a big step for me. The matches I played, just in terms of my movement around the court, I actually felt quite confident by the end of the week. I’m actually moving pretty well,” said Murray.
“When I was over in the States, and when I played the Challenger in Mallorca, I was a little bit concerned with that. I just didn’t feel that comfortable moving around. When I watched videos of the matches, I just didn’t really like how I looked in terms of my movement.
“Whereas last week – and I think it was the case here as well – my movement on the court is not like it was before, but it’s enough to be very competitive at this level. Hopefully that can continue to improve over the next couple of months.I think I’m doing pretty well. I would say I’m quite happy with that.”
Throughout this year, Murray has had to overcome many challenges to be back on court competing against the top players in the ATP Rankings. But he has always been able to rely on the support and encouragement of his team and his family.
This week proved no different. His brother, Jamie, is through to the semi-finals in the doubles draw alongside Neal Skupski and his mother Judy has also been in attendance to support activities at the tournament.
“My team and my family have been very supportive of me. [In the] times when I maybe wasn’t feeling like I wanted to keep going or keep trying, they were also pushing me a little bit to keep going,” said Murray. “My mum is here this week doing a little bit of work for the tournament. Obviously I have got my brother here, as well. It’s nice for me to see them.
“When I’m traveling, when you’re away from the rest of your family, to have some of them here is nice. They have always been very supportive of my tennis and my career. I’m very thankful for all of the help they have given me.”
Murray will now travel to the Rolex Shanghai Masters to compete in just his second ATP Masters 1000 event of the year. The 32-year-old is one of only four men to lift the trophy since the inaugural edition of the event in 2009, claiming three tournament victories (2010-‘11, ’16).