• Former world No 1 has operation on troublesome hip
• Surgeon believes Scot can return to competitive tennis
Andy Murray will not know for several months whether he can return to the upper echelons of tennis after undergoing hip resurfacing surgery in what amounts to a final roll of the dice to save his career. The 31-year-old has refused to put a time frame on his return to the sport, but his hopes of playing in this year’s Wimbledon in July appear remote.
Murray’s circle of confidantes has shrunk to his immediate family, and he again bypassed the media to announce the news on Instagram. “I now have a metal hip,” he wrote, following the operation that involved removing the damaged bone and cartilage within his right hip socket and replacing it with a metal shell. “Feeling a bit battered and bruised just now but hopefully that will be the end of my hip pain.”
Earlier this month Murray had strongly hinted that retirement was imminent because of constant problems from a “severely damaged” right hip which had failed to respond to a previous operation.
However, it is understood that the Scot was persuaded to take one last shot at saving his career by his performance in an epic five-set defeat to the Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open – which showed that he was still capable of mixing it with the top players – as well as a conversations with the grand slam winning doubles champion Bob Bryan, who returned to tennis five months after a similar hip operation.
Bryan said that he had warned Murray that there were no guarantees he would return to the top. “I’m really the only guy to be playing on tour with a metal hip so he’s been watching me like a hawk, asking me how I’m feeling after matches, after practices, where I’m at,” the American revealed. “But I never once told him this is the way to go, because I do see that singles is a different monster. Those guys are really sliding around, killing themselves for four hours. Who knows if this joint would hold up?”
Yet while playing singles is far more taxing on the body, Jason Stockwell, an orthopaedic surgeon familiar with the operation Murray has undergone, believes the three-time grand slam winner could be back within 12 months.
“I do hope Andy returns to competition,” he told the Guardian. “He could be back within a year – and, with strong, flexible, painless hips. There is no reason why he shouldn’t be competitive.”
Stockwell said that the hip resurfacing, which was known as the ‘Birmingham method’ after being developed in Britain’s second city by the surgeon Derek McMinn, had been developed as an alternative to hip replacement surgery and was primarily intended for men under the age of 55 with osteoarthritis.
“Fortunately, not too many young people develop arthritis of their hips – but, when they do – the commonest cause is sport, followed by injury,” Stockwell added.
Murray now faces months of rehabilitation and uncertainty and there is no guarantee that he will ever play competitively again. Earlier this month he insisted that he wanted to play at Wimbledon this summer, but that seems highly unlikely. His body needs time to rest and recover before being rebuilt to grand slam level.
Nevertheless, the fire will not go out easily. He has consulted widely, and has agonised over the decision at length. He has primarily undergone the surgery to improve his quality of life by ending the pain he feels on a daily basis. But he also holds out faint hopes of returning to tennis, perhaps at the US Open in August or in Melbourne next January.
Yet even if his team can get him back on the court in something resembling his old self, he will be 32 and mere competitiveness at a base level is unlikely to satisfy someone who has been world No 1 and was mixing it with Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic until he began to suffer from serious hip problems in July 2017.
If Murray watched the Australian Open final, he will have witnessed Djokovic’s straight-sets humiliation of Nadal with a mixture of awe and regret. His struggles with those players, as well as against Federer, look to be in the distant past.
Yet Murray has always been a fighter, so it is no surprise that he desperately wants to be back on the biggest stages of the sport he loves. But, as he ventures on yet another comeback trail, he knows better than most that the gap between wanting and doing can be light years apart.