LONDON - Andy Murray’s quandaries when coming back this week will not begin and end with his troublesome hip, according to his rival and friend Novak Djokovic. The area between the ears could prove as much of an issue when he returns after 11 months at the Fever-Tree Championships on Tuesday, on the same day the Serb will also make his entrance to the grass-court season.
Djokovic has been on a slow climb back since missing the second half of last season with an elbow problem. He said: "I’ve faced a major injury that got me off the court for six-plus months and you feel the consequences of that more mentally than physically. I never knew it was going to take so long to get back in that state of mind where I’m comfortable, where I’m confident with my game and with the changes that I’ve made.
"Andy has been absent for longer than I have. Hips, I don’t know how difficult it feels for him but I think the biggest challenge will always be mental. How to get it out of your head, understand that you’re healthy and you can focus on your game rather than thinking 50 per cent of the time when you’re on the court about whether something can happen.
"Does it hurt me? Does it not hurt me? Am I imagining things? Then 50 per cent of the time you are thinking about your tactics and what you have to execute. If you don’t have mental clarity, especially on grass where everything happens very quickly, it’s very difficult to play."
Djokovic also pointed out that the turf can be treacherous at times, especially a new surface. "The one thing that could be a bit dangerous is slipping on the grass," he said. "That’s very unpredictable and grass is always this kind of surface where one wrong footing can make something go wrong, especially in the hips. I just hope for his sake that doesn’t happen."
Djokovic is, nonetheless, not surprised that Murray has chosen Queen’s Club as the venue for his comeback. "He needs that support, he needs people to back him up, to be behind him and show him that he was missed. I know how that feels. These are the events where he will give 100 per cent to try to get on court and be in condition to play."
While Murray is preparing to face Nick Kyrgios in the first round, Djokovic will be up against tough Australian qualifier John Millman. At 10-1, money placed on the Serb for Wimbledon could be a smart wager as he was starting to play well again at the French Open, only to be stopped by a freakishly good performance by unheralded Italian Marco Cecchinato in the quarter-final.
Having watched Serbia win their World Cup opener on Sunday, Djokovic was informed that the football final will take place just two hours after the men’s singles final at Wimbledon. "If that happens I would obviously be very happy to miss the World Cup final," he replied. The main draw matches at Queen’s begin Monday.