A lesson in being 'nice' to oneself

Former Slam winner Johansson says on-the-mend Murray should treat himself with compassion

Andy Murray is ecstatic after beating Argentinian Juan Ignacio Londero in three sets yesterday at the Shanghai Masters. He next faces Fabio Fognini in the last 32.
Andy Murray is ecstatic after beating Argentinian Juan Ignacio Londero in three sets yesterday at the Shanghai Masters. He next faces Fabio Fognini in the last 32.PHOTO: XINHUA

A person walking the 100m distance from the players' restaurant to the mixed zone of the Rolex Shanghai Masters tennis tournament would pass by five pictures of Andy Murray on the walls of the Qi Zhong Stadium.

This presence - his picture also lines a fence surrounding the practice courts - is one of the reasons former player Thomas Johansson's advice to the Briton during the latter's injury comeback is this: "Be nice to yourself."

The 2002 Australian Open champion told The Straits Times yesterday: "If you walk around here you see his name everywhere; he has won, he has played so well.

"Now, he has to fight from the first match, which he did before as well, but he was so much better than most of the players at the beginning. For the moment he is quite level with (these) players."

Three-time Shanghai champion Murray, who had surgery on his right hip in January, received a wild card into the first round and overcame a slow start yesterday to beat 56th-ranked qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The 32-year-old Scot, winner of three Grand Slams, next faces Italian 10th seed Fabio Fognini. Murray, now ranked 289th in the world, made his singles return at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in August.

Johansson, 44, is familiar with returning to competition after injury. He was sidelined for 14 months from 2002 due to a knee injury.

Recalling how he could not walk the day after playing - and winning in straight sets - the first match of his comeback in 2004, the Swede said it took him six months to return to his "normal" level.

Johansson, who is in Shanghai as Belgian David Goffin's coach, added: "The hardest thing for me was that for some matches that you lost, you know that if you'd have played this guy a year ago, I would've killed him. So I had to be very humble and I had to be nice to myself when I came back."

Asked after his match yesterday if he is now more patient with himself, Murray said with a wry smile: "No. I would like to (be), but unfortunately that hasn't changed."

The former world No. 1 has found match recovery a particularly tough aspect of his comeback, though he feels his body is getting used to competing at a high level again.

"The beginning for me, with this comeback, was more (about) just being confident, moving and changing direction on my hip playing singles - that was difficult at the beginning," he said.

"But once I got over that and the last few weeks winning some matches, I had to come back and play the next day... it's difficult because I haven't played much tennis the last couple of years and for a period I was playing lots of matches and competing towards the latter stage for most tournaments - the body adjusts and gets used to the load that it's under."

Murray lost in the first round in straight sets both in Cincinnati and at the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina a week later.

He has done better in Asia, losing in three sets to Australian Alex de Minaur in the second round of the Zhuhai Championships last month.

He also beat US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini en route to the quarter-finals of last week's China Open in Beijing, where he lost to eventual winner Dominic Thiem.

Said Murray: "I don't know if winning a first round in a Masters Series or whatever means that that was better than last week, but every win just now is important for me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline 'A lesson in being 'nice' to oneself'. Print Edition | Subscribe