LONDON • Anyone popping by Miami's Crandon Park in recent weeks for a look at Andy Murray's pre-season training block might well have wondered if the three-time Grand Slam champion was preparing for a switch of career to the Cirque du Soleil.
It has taken some observers aback to see the Scot performing workouts involving hula hoops and a pole on court, as has the sight of him using a ski-specific training tool called the "Skier's Edge" in the blazing Florida heat.
These are not common training methods for the world's elite tennis players, but rather the quirky lengths he is going to in an attempt to finally overcome the hip issues that have robbed him of almost 1½ years of his career.
Since he limped out of the quarter-finals at Wimbledon last summer, there has been much mystery surrounding the physical state of Murray.
Attempted comebacks have often ended in tournament withdrawals and, at times, he has retreated into something of a shell, preferring to update only his trusted performance team and close family members of his true condition.
In recent weeks, however, the 31-year-old has been more hopeful about his prospects of a successful comeback in the coming year, with a long period of training with Bill Knowles, a world-renowned reconditioning specialist, and this has given him a much-needed dose of positivity.
Knowles' unique methods have hugely appealed to Murray.
It would be understandable if even the former world No. 1, the workhorse that he is, had lost enthusiasm for the standard and mundane form of reconditioning after doing it for so long without seeing much improvement in his hip.
However, under Knowles, who has worked with golfer Tiger Woods and England's 2003 Rugby World Cup hero Jonny Wilkinson, Murray has been re-energised through the use of a variation of fun exercises, from paddling in a swimming pool without a canoe to performing cartwheels on a gymnastics obstacle course.
When he attended one of the ATP Finals night sessions at the O2 Arena last month, he was in good spirits during a brief conversation backstage, enthusing about the time he had spent with Knowles.
At the same time, there was an understandable element of caution before heading to Miami, where his right hip would receive a thorough test through the punishing on-court drills.
So far, three weeks into his training block, all appears to be in order. Murray is said to be hitting the ball well during practice sessions.
His movement has improved from what was seen during the 12 matches he played this year, although there is still a slight limp - long-time observers rightly point out that he has never been the smoothest of walkers in between points.
An indication of how Murray is truly feeling can often be gauged from his presence on social media. He has been very active in Miami, which is a stark contrast to the periods of radio silence earlier this year.
Recent posts on Instagram have included pictures of modern art, which he is understood to have developed a taste for during his absence.
There is, of course, only so much that reconditioning and practice can tell Murray. The acid test of his hip will come at the end of this month, when he plays competitive matches at his first tournament of the new season in Brisbane.
As the world No. 257, his chances of progress in the first few tournaments of the next season will rely to an extent on the luck of the draw, with the world's top three of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer all potential first-round opponents at the Australian Open.
Beyond that, it is hard to set what the ceiling of expectation should be.
Producing the required consistency to return to tennis' summit in the future will be difficult, but he will be understandably disappointed if, after all the blood, sweat and tears of the past 18 months, he does not add at least one more title to his Grand Slam tally.
THE TIMES, LONDON