Andy Murray was the top-ranked player in the world the last time he played an official tennis match, in the Wimbledon quarterfinals last July.
It would be 342 days until his next match, which came Tuesday at the Queen’s Club ATP tournament, finally completing the longest absence of any top men’s tennis player of his generation.
Now ranked 156th, Murray showed both rust and shine in a 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5 loss to 21st-ranked Nick Kyrgios.
Murray had hopes of ending his layoff earlier, traveling to both New Yorkand Australia with the aim of competing at the Grand Slam events there in the months since he was sidelined with a persistent hip injury. He finally had surgery in January, then rehabbed up to eight hours a day, he said, to prepare for a return during his favored grass-court season.
He initially weighed coming back last week at a smaller tournament in the Netherlands but decided last weekend to play at Queen’s Club, where he is a five-time champion.
Murray said the emotions of his return had struck him after he finished his morning practice.
“I didn’t know how well anything was going to go, really,” he said. “I was nervous about that. But, you know, I thought I did O.K.”
Murray’s groundstrokes — particularly his forehand — lacked the power and depth of their percussive best. But his movement, one of his strengths, was impressive, especially side-to-side: He chased down several Kyrgios drop shots and was able to react quickly to other short, off-speed shots Kyrgios sent across the net.
The match, which lasted 2 hours 39 minutes, pushed Murray well beyond anything he had done while rehabilitating.
“At the most, longest I have practiced in the last year has been an hour and a half,” Murray said. “I was on the court for significantly longer than that, in a more intense environment. So, I’m feeling decent, considering that.“
Murray’s health status unsettled his opponent even more. Kyrgios, a polarizing player who has long been supported by Murray, admitted after the match that he had been preoccupied with his opponent’s well-being throughout the match. When they met at the net to shake hands after Murray double faulted on match point, Kyrgios asked how he was feeling.
Kyrgios said he felt reluctant to let his competitive juices flow as they otherwise would.
“It was strange, because on big points, when I won them, I almost felt bad if I showed any emotion,” Kyrgios said. “Like I didn’t really want to get into his grill at all.”
Kyrgios said he had “a lot of thoughts going out there” — both excitement and annoyance at Murray’s promising form.
Scheduling prudence has been a major topic in tennis over the last 12 months, which have seen several top players forced to reckon with rest versus readiness. The five men who were the top five seeds at last year’s Australian Open — Murray, Novak Djokovic, Milos Raonic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori — have all fallen out of the top 20 after prolonged injury woes.
Raonic advanced to the second round at Queen’s Club earlier Wednesday with a 6-1, 3-1 (ret.) win over Yuki Bhambri.
“The body’s holding on, which is nice,” Raonic said after the match.
Hours later, however, Raonic pulled out of the tournament with a right pectoral strain, which he said he had suffered on the penultimate point of the match. The decision to withdraw, though sudden, followed advice he had said he’d given himself about ignoring injuries in the past.