What’s the surest sign that Andy Murray’s comeback is picking up steam? Just look for the memes.
So far during the Asian swing, tennis fans on social media have been treated to the sight of the former No. 1 going through a roll call of his vintage expressions. He’s sighed, he’s muttered, he’s chuntered, he’s stared, he’s screamed, he’s fist-pumped, and he may have even smiled a couple of times. But Tuesday in Shanghai, Murray upped his meme game to its highest level yet when he told Fabio Fognini, emphatically, to “shut up!”
Aren’t you happy to have Andy, major champion and all-around mensch, back on tour to lay down the law?
Murray had a right to be angry and incredulous at Fognini. The two had played for three sets and nearly three hours, and staged one of the year’s most entertaining matches. The rallies were long and varied, the shot-making was top-flight, and the tension gradually built with each set. It also didn’t hurt that Murray and Fognini were both edgy, and both spent time jawing with chair umpire Fergus Murphy. Finally, at 4-4 in the third set, the tension boiled and Fognini went over the edge. When Murray set up for an easy putaway volley at net, Fognini, in a transparently futile attempt to distract him, shouted as he swung. Murray complained, Fognini told him to stop looking at him, and everything escalated on the changeover until Murray stared Fognini down and told him to keep his mouth shut.
Unfortunately for Murray, it would be Fognini who would get the last word in. Twice Murray served for the match, at 5-4 and 6-5, and twice Fognini relaxed and played lights-out tennis to break. He kept it up in the deciding tiebreaker, too, taking advantage of Murray’s sudden service woes to boss the rallies and close out a 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-6 (2) win. The handshake was…brief.
But while this day ended in disappointment for Murray, he has to be pleased with his progress. On August 29, he lost to 171st-ranked Matteo Viola at a Challenger event in Mallorca. Since then, he has beaten another, better Matteo, Berrettini; pushed Dominic Thiem to a second-set tiebreaker; and served for the match against the 12th-ranked Fognini. In Shanghai, Murray played three-set matches on back-to-back days and didn’t appear to suffer any physical issues, and when Fognini raised his game to Top 10 level today, Murray was able to match it. That’s not bad for a guy who was sidelined for nearly two years, who temporarily announced his retirement at the start of this season, and who is coming back from hip surgery.
“Each week I feel I’m making progress just now,” Murray said in Shanghai. “Yeah, that’s obviously positive.”
For now, he’s just happy, and a little amazed, to be pain-free.
“Before [surgery], my whole life was pretty much—I was just consumed by this pain in my hip,” he said. “It was like every minute of the day; it was very, very tiring. I found it really hard towards the end before I had the operation, and now, obviously, I’m able to play. I’m able to do lots of different things.”
This week, Murray announced that he plans to play the 2020 Australian Open. One year after contemplating retirement in Melbourne, could Murray return as a dark horse to go deep into the event? Will the Big 4 generation give us yet another return to Slam-winning form in 2020?
One more question: At 32, having already contemplated, and briefly experienced, the end of his career, is the famously self-lacerating Murray treating himself any more leniently on court?
“No,” Murray said with a smile when the topic was raised this week. “I would like to be, but unfortunately that hasn’t changed.”
And that’s OK: We’re happy with Andy the way he is, aren’t we?