Andy Murray can be “a force to be reckoned with at Wimbledon”, according to former Olympic champion Monica Puig.
Former world No 1 and three-time Grand Slam champion Murray limped through the Championships six years ago after the hip problem that would lead him almost into retirement.
Since undergoing a major hip resurfacing operation in 2019, Murray has struggled with injuries and niggles but this year’s Australian Open saw a strong resurgence from the Scot as he came through a mammoth week in Melbourne on a high.
The 35-year-old produced his greatest comeback victory, recovering from two sets and 5-3 down to beat Thanasi Kokkinakis just two days after beating Matteo Berrettini in a five-set epic.
The win over Kokkinakis was Murray’s longest professional match, lasting five hours and 45 minutes and not finishing until 4.05am local time.
His fairy-tale Grand Slam run eventually came to an end at the hands of Roberto Bautista Agut, but his performances have given him real optimism, which Puig believes has “fuelled that fire” for the rest of 2023.
We do not know how many more years he’s going to play but he’s making every moment that he steps onto the court count.
“I feel that Andy has something to prove every time he goes on the court because the amount of times people have counted him out, said he was never going to play again, said that physically he’s not going to endure the rigours of professional tennis again. Having something to prove works for some people and others it doesn’t, but it definitely works for him,” explained 2016 Olympic women’s singles’ champion Puig.
“I believe he crossed paths with one of the doctors who said that he was never going to be able to play at this level again and he was like ‘aha!’ so it’s like he wants to prove he still has it, that he’s still got it and he’s proving that day in day out and that goes to show that hard work does pay off.
“It doesn’t matter about your level – how you feel physically. You put in the work and you will see the rewards afterwards and I feel that he is doing that really well.
“We do not know how many more years he’s going to play but he’s making every moment that he steps onto the court count.
“He definitely has a very strong character and I feel that he is mentally very, very tough. He won two Olympic gold medals in a row, he won the US Open and he won Wimbledon twice.
“Being a Brit and winning Wimbledon is huge. It’s very tough for a lot of players to succeed and to play well in their own country and he did that and it just kind of fuelled that fire.”
A lot of people did not think he was going to even reach the top 50 after a while and he just went breaking little barriers. I have to take my hat off to him because it’s admiral.
Murray was ‘underrated’ when he was part of ‘The Big Four’
Puig, who was forced to retire from the sport last year at the age of 28 due to a string of injuries, has a lot of admiration for Murray and believes the former world No 1 was underestimated when he was part of the so-called ‘Big Four’ which included Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.
She said: “While he was in ‘The Big Four’ they kind of underrated him a little bit because he was the one who was very consistent.
“He didn’t have anything super flashy like Federer or Nadal had but he was always there and he was always in that top four. He was always pushing. He was one of these people that when you would go on the court, you would expect a battle.
“You know that he’s not going to give you any free points. He’s going to make you work for everything. Mentally, he’s going to show you that he’s always there and that’s one of his best qualities.”
Although Murray came close to retiring from the game after the 2019 Australian Open, Puerto Rican legend Puig believes wanting more success is the main factor which is driving him on.
“Murray has a Hall of Fame career but he still wants to do more. He’s not satisfied with what he’s done. He still feels like he has more in him and that’s why he’s still out there, putting in the hours, and that’s why we always have to keep our focus on him,” Puig said.
“A lot of people did not think he was going to even reach the top 50 after a while but he just went breaking little barriers and I have to take my hat off to him because it’s admiral.”
Can Murray be a force at Wimbledon this summer?
Murray is currently ranked just outside the top 60 in the world after outperformed expectations at the Australian Open but it’s the All England Club where the Scot will feel he can show exactly far he has come.
The former British No 1 will hope for a strong next couple of months where a spot inside the top 32 would hand him a seeding for Wimbledon.
“Murray’s won Wimbledon before. He has that on his side,” said Puig. “The Brits tend to do very well on their own turf.
“A lot of people do not like the grass. I’ve heard it thousands of times before – ‘I do not like playing on this surface’ because it’s very hard and there are not a lot of warm-up events beforehand. In order for you to really get into your rhythm you need to adapt and you need time on a surface but grass just does not give you that.
“That’s one of the advantages he has and it’s also an advantage that points are not as long as on a hardcourt or a claycourt so he can make those shorter points count. He looks comfortable coming into the net and he knows what to do.
“Yes, he can be a force to be reckoned with.”
Puig’s admiration of Murray
Puig and Murray crossed paths at the Rio Olympics having both collected gold medals in singles.
The former world No 27, who won a WTA title in Strasbourg, has huge respect for the Scot for everything he has had to endure in the last few years.
“I’ve watched him play numerous times. I always wanted to be as consistent as him because it always looks like he never misses a ball,” Puig said.
“For somebody to win two Olympic gold medals in a row – that is huge within itself.
“I just have a lot of respect for him as a player, for everything that he’s gone through with his injuries. I unfortunately had to end my career due to injury but he’s still there, still giving it a shot.
“I have a lot of respect for those types of players who have quietly gone about their business and every time they come on to the court, they come to play and that’s admirable.”
Puig will be running the Boston Marathon on April 17 followed by the London Marathon just six days later on April 23.
This post is originally appeared on Sky News