Andy Murray has dropped to 839 in the world rankings after an injury-plagued year that culminated when he dropped out of Wimbledon. He missed the second half of 2017 with a hip injury and then he went under the surgeon’s knife in January after failing to recover. The former world number one made his comeback last month, but he only managed three matches before taking the painful decision to pull out of Wimbledon as his body was not ready. Murray has targeted the Citi Open on July 30 to mount his next comeback, but there are fears that he may never return to the summit of the game.

It is now two years since the Scot won a Grand Slam and it must have been excruciating for this dogged competitor to watch on from the sidelines. This was supposed to be his golden age. He finally usurped Novak Djokovic to seize top spot in the world rankings in 2016 after winning his third Grand Slam. The Serb was in decline, Rafael Nadal was injured and Roger Federer was over the hill, so the stage was set for Murray to massively bolster his collection of Grand Slams.

But it seems like the sheer physical effort of overwhelming the superhuman Djokovic took its toll on his body. In his absence, Nadal, Federer and Djokovic have been resurgent, winning the last seven Grand Slams between them. Had Murray been fighting fit, he would have fancied his chances of winning the last two Wimbledon titles, and possibly securing victory at the US Open and the Australian Open. The young guns have failed to establish themselves, and he could have used his superior athleticism to see off the likes of Federer. Instead he must reflect on what could have been and try to rally for one last effort to add to his trophy cabinet.

Federer and Nadal have provided shining examples of how to enjoy a late career renaissance. The Swiss went five years without a Grand Slam, but careful body management saw him return in style. He has now won the last two Australian Open titles and the 2017 US Open, hitting the ball with a level of aggression that counteracts his diminished pace. Federer also skips the clay court season in order to preserve his 36-year-old body for more realistic challenges. Nadal has returned as the king of clay, but he also won the 2018 US Open, and that followed a two-year Grand Slam drought. Rest has been key to his recovery, and Murray could learn from that, while he could also benefit from missing the clay court campaign.

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Dropping out of Wimbledon seems like a sensible, mature decision. “Not playing Wimbledon was the best decision I could have made,” he said. “I have no regrets about it. Last year I came in when the hip was bad, managed to get through to the quarter-finals but ended up missing a whole year because of it. I didn’t want to go in this year, potentially play four or five matches, and do any damage. Obviously I was very disappointed I wasn’t able to play, but I wasn’t going to win the tournament and I wasn’t well enough prepared. It was a hard decision but a smart one.”

That is encouraging to hear, as he has previously rushed back from injury and paid the price. If he practices the sort of careful body management that has served Federer so well there is every reason to think he could challenge for major honours once again. After all, there are still huge question marks over Djokovic’s mentality, despite his Wimbledon triumph. Nadal is all but invincible on clay, but on other services he is no titan. The years may finally be catching up with Federer, who crashed out of Wimbledon at the hands of the somewhat limited Kevin Anderson. The likes of Alexander Zverev and Nick Kyrgios are yet to turn it on at a Grand Slam, Dominic Thiem only excels on clay and Murray should not fear the remaining contenders for glory. He is a better player than Anderson, Juan Martin Del Potro, Grigor Dimitrov, Marin Cilic, John Isner, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori.

If you take a look at the tennis spread betting lines, you will see he is an underdog for glory, but he could surprise a few people. It all depends on whether he can return to peak physical condition. Murray has never been blessed with a particularly ferocious serve, nor does he have the grace of someone like Federer. But he is a phenomenal counterpuncher, he constructs points in an intelligent fashion and his defensive play from the baseline is superb. In short, he grinds his opponents down, and to do that you need to be extremely fit. Murray’s fans will hope he does nothing to compromise his health, as he could once again be a force to be reckoned with if he gets back to the condition he was in a couple of years ago.