Is it time for Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic to take a hint from the two senior members of the Top4 and go rest? Not just for a few weeks but for months?
Many people in the game think so. I would go as far as to suggest that Murray and Djokovic throw their rackets in a cupboard till the end of the year and concentrate on getting themselves physically, and also mentally fit, for the Australian Open in January.
Look what a long lay off did for Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal. Federer blew away any fears he might have had about a full six months away from the game last year by winning the Australian Open on his return. Nadal was in the final, leading by a break in the fifth. Later Nadal went on another rampage through the clay court season, winning his 10th French Open.
Both over thirties looked younger and fitter than they had in years. If they could afford to put their careers on hold for months on end, Andy and Novak, who both turned 30 this year, certainly can.
Djokovic, apart from losing focus over the past year, now seems to be suffering from a variety of physical ailments and, after a shoulder problem, was forced to retire at a set & 2-0 down to Tomas Berdych in the quarter finals when the pain moved down his arm to his elbow.
It was clear for all to see that Murray had a serious hip problem as he limped through the last two sets against Sam Querrey. Being the kind of guy he is, Andy refused to make much of it in press conference, congratulating Querrey on his serving, but the hip problem flared in Paris and has been a problem ever since.
The extent of the problem was revealed behind closed doors to members of the ATP Players Council on which Murray sits. Or didn’t sit, depending on the discomfort he felt. I understand that the Scot needed to stand at various times during a six hour meeting which not only showed how dedicated the Council members are in giving their time just before Wimbledon but also revealed how much pain Murray was in.
The fact that Murray battled his way through to the quarter finals was not that surprising. He has been there before. He missed the French Open in 2013 because a back problem made it impossible for him to handle high bouncing 2nd serves to his back hand on clay and was still feeling pain when he won his first Wimbledon a few weeks later. By September he needed surgery to cure the condition.
However, this hip problem could be potentially more serious. Problems of varying similarity ended the careers of Gustavo Kuerten, Magnus Norman and Marcelo Rios in their thirties. Bill Norris, the long serving ATP trainer, who looked after all of them, feels that a long period of rest could have helped.
“But none of that trio considered taking a long lay off before their injuries forced them out of the game,” says Norris. “All three would have benefited from more rest and recovery time. Our thinking has evolved since then. For instance, yin yoga may help in Murray’s case.”
That idea echoes what Peter Fleming feels Murray needs to do. “He is so intense, he needs to find a way to relax a little bit,” says Fleming who searched in vain for ways to relax when he was on a doubles court with John McEnroe. “The mental intensity he puts into his game affects every aspect of his body. I know he does yoga but it is the gentler kind, yin, which may be the solution. I started it in January and feel a completely different person.”
Fleming has struggled with all manner of ailments – at the end of his career he was taking 20 aspirin tablets a day just to get himself on court – and has come through a similar type of hip problem that is now affecting Murray.
We may know in a few days the full extent of the injury. Early next week Murray will sit down with his team and try to decide what to do, based on the medical advice they will receive after tests. “I’ll get the best advice I can and stick with that,” he said. “If it means taking a few weeks rest, then so be it.”
But will a few weeks be enough? Obviously he wants to play the US Open but is he underestimating the battering his body took during that extraordinary finish to 2016 when he won titles all over the world, including Olympic gold in Rio and the ATP Finals in London?
Not only did he get a bout of shingles early in the New Year which can be very debilitating and painful but, after he won the title in Dubai, he woke up with a red rash all over his body. Then the injuries kicked in and, under the circumstances, the Scot has done extremely well to get as close as one tie break away from making the French Open final and reaching the quarters here at Wimbledon.
He is certainly not going to stop working on his fitness. “I feel like I’ve done all the right stuff but I’ll try to do more, try to get myself in better shape.”
That’s what one would expect Sir Andy to say. You don’t become Britain’s greatest athlete by not working yourself to the bone but….and the ‘but’ has now become something he should think about. Rather than pushing himself further, maybe he should walk the dogs, help Kim prepare for their second child and try that yin yoga. It could make all the difference.