Things could not have gone much worse for Andy Murray the tennis player in the past two years, but in the past few days they could hardly have gone better.
In harness with 37 year-old Feliciano Lopez he is a winner again on the ATP Tour at Queen’s Club, not in the style he is accustomed to, but it was a sweet sensation nonetheless.
To add to his five singles titles here there is a doubles trophy after he and the Spaniard defeated Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram 7-6, 6-7, 10-8 to take the Fever Tree Championships.
Andy Murray and Feliciano Lopez won the Queen’s club doubles title on Sunday evening
Murray and Lopez celebrate their triumph after defeating Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury
The pair embrace following a 10-5 final set victory at the Queen’s club championship
After losing so much time since limping out of Wimbledon 2017 – including a failed surgery and flogging himself through months of fruitless rehab – he is back as a functioning professional.
And it was purely because of this that he was beaming afterwards, saying: ‘This is very different for me and it’s more special than a lot of the singles tournaments I’ve won.
‘I’ve won the tournament here alongside Feli with a metal hip, it’s mental. Even two months ago I was not thinking about this. Now I don’t have any soreness.’
These are still early days for him, and there are much bigger tests to come, including the far more physically taxing business of playing on hard courts as a singles player.
Yet Murray showed that the returns and reflexes are still there, even if his serve could stand improvement.
Five months on from his emotional exit from the Australian Open (and less than that since his late January hip operation) he could hardly have asked for more.
Murray celebrates enthusiastically after winning his sixth Queen’s title (five of them singles)
Murray and Lopez won the first-set tiebreak despite their opponents serving for the match
‘I wasn’t thinking about this at all in January, I was getting zero enjoyment from my tennis. I was thinking more about life in general,’ he reflected.
He could be grateful to Lopez, who put in an extraordinary effort, finishing five matches in all over the weekend, ending up winning both the singles and doubles events.
As for Murray, he has played and beaten some strong partnerships from the world of specialist doubles, even if some of them are not household names.
It took umpire Mohamed Layani until late in the first set to pronounce Salisbury’s name correctly, calling him ‘Sallis-burry’, until corrected by a heckler from the large crowd which stayed behind after a singles final which took nearly three hours.
Now it is on to Eastbourne for the 32 year-old Scot, where he will play with Brazilian Marcelo Melo in the first round against the same opponents he beat last Thursday, Robert Farah and Juan Sebastian Cabal.
Murray was broken to 15 at 3-3 in the first set, and there is no question that his serve is still well short of where he would like it, especially his second delivery, which looked vulnerable like in days long gone by.
There was also a return of him chuntering at times to his box, although this has to be taken as a sign that his competitive juices are flowing again. At the changeovers Lopez was staying on his feet, not wanting to get stiff after his exertions.
Salisbury, for whom this size of occasion is still new, faltered when he served for the set at 5-4, pressurised by the Murray return which is still a potent force.
Lopez (left) had won the Queen’s singles title before throwing himself into the doubles final
Britain’s Joe Sailsbury and his partner Rajeev Ram failed to capitalise on going a break up
Still, the doubles specialists – defending the honour of their breed against singles insurgents – should have taken the first set from 5-2 up in the tiebreak. The more prestigious duo fronted up better under pressure, and came back to win it 8-6.
They forced three break points at 3-3 in the second against the Ram serve, but the American held firm. It proved worth his while as the Murray serve was broken for the second time to send it into a deciding tiebreak.
With rain threatening and under murky skies and clock going to 7.30pm they got ahead for 8-4 as Lopez finished with a flourish, reeling off winner after winner. In total he spent fifteen hours and 25 minutes on court over the rain-affected week.
The Spaniard had earlier eked out his second singles title at this venue in three years, beating the human wall that is Gilles Simon 6-2, 6-7, 7-6 in two hours and 49 minutes.
Watching it you could only recall the days when these grass court matches involved two players rushing into the net after their serves, rather than grinding away from the baseline in a war of attrition.
It was reckoned to be the first time that a Tournament Director – Lopez has that title at the Madrid Open as he prepares to wind down his career – has won a fellow ATP Tour event.
The slowing of conditions makes it look like they are almost playing on a clay court, further evidence that the uniformity of surface speeds on tour has gone too far.