By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – Former world number one Andy Murray can return to the top of the sport despite the hip injury that forced him to pull out of the Australian Open this week as long as his mind is willing, according to tennis great Mats Wilander.
Three-times grand slam champion Murray has not played a competitive match since losing a Wimbledon quarter-final to American Sam Querrey in July and may need surgery to cure a problem that threatens his career.
However, seven-times major winner Wilander believes if the Scot sets his mind on it, he can overcome the physical battle that awaits over the next few crucial months.
“Of course he can (come back),” Swede Wilander, who will host his popular ‘Game, Set and Mats’ show for Eurosport during the Australian Open, told Reuters by phone.
“Have the surgery and see how things go. He’s a hard enough worker and so talented that I don’t think it’s a problem for him to come back as long as his mind wants him to come back.
“That’s the thing you never really know when you have a surgery and take time off.”
Murray, who has slipped to 16th in the world from number one in September, has battled back from injury before, most notably when he took time off for lower back surgery in 2013.
He returned to play some of his best tennis, winning a second Wimbledon crown in 2016, gold at the Rio Olympics and climbing to the top of the ATP rankings.
That knowledge will drive him on again, Wilander said.
“With Murray I think he draw on past experiences and look at how after he had his back surgery he came back and was a better player and got to number one in the world,” he said.
“If he can get himself 100 percent fit he can come back with no pressure because he already has three slams and it won’t be about rankings then, just getting back to a level where he can challenge for big titles.”
Wilander said it should be no surprise that the top players are struggling with injuries, as their careers are now longer.
Novak Djokovic (elbow) and Rafael Nadal (knee) are both battling for full fitness ahead of the Australian Open while Stan Wawrinka, another 30 something, is returning from a knee injury, as Roger Federer did last year in stunning fashion.
“It’s not necessarily an age thing but it’s more about miles on the clock,” Wilander said.
Murray, 30, is yet to decide whether or not he needs surgery, although he hinted last week that it may his only option after a six-month rehab failed to cure the problem.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Christian Radnedge)