Andy Murray back playing Novak Djokovic, three men in the last sixteen of a big clay court championship and a US Open women’s champion.
Giddy times for British tennis – ironically at a point in history when it has set its face against the professional tours by banning Russians from UK tournaments.
Murray faces Djokovic in the third round of the Madrid Open on Thursday for the first time in more than five years, a triumph of both modern hip renewal techniques and his refusal to quit.
Andy Murray is relishing a first meeting with Novak Djokovic in over five years in Madrid
He will not be an isolated figure either, after Dan Evans and Cam Norrie carved out excellent wins on Wednesday, over Roberto Bautista Agut and John Isner respectively.
There have been nine GB wins from eleven singles matches so far. Two came from Emma Raducanu and one from Jack Draper, who is looking like one of the sport’s top emerging talents. The world’s best doubles player, Joe Salisbury, is also from the UK.
The British run – perhaps aided by the lively conditions which come with Madrid’s relative altitude – may come to a shuddering halt on Thursday.
Yet Murray has already made a statement after the U-turn that has seen him play the clay season after all. His early hours win over Denis Shapovalov on Wednesday has earned him a free hit against old foe Djokovic.
The Brit said he should have ‚in theory‘ no chance of beating the Serb with a metal hip
‘He’s obviously number one in the world and I’m playing with a metal hip, so I shouldn’t have a chance,” said Murray.
‘I worked extremely hard in the last five or six weeks to get myself here and it’s a fantastic opportunity to play against him again on a huge court in a big tournament. My movement has been so much better than where it was at the beginning of the year, and it makes a huge difference to my whole game.’
Their last meeting was in the Qatar Open final at the start of January 2017, and thereafter the physical problems began to emerge for the double Wimbleton champion.
After his exhausting surge to the number one ranking in late 2016 he gave himself too little time to recover, with virtually no off-season.
Murray overcame world No 14 Denis Shapovalov 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and nine minutes
By the early summer his hip problems surfaced, but against Shapovalov his movement looked as good as it has been in five years.
His focus, all over the place in February, was also spot on. The recent coaching reunion with Ivan Lendl cannot be a coincidence.
As Evans observed of Murray after his hard-fought 6-3 5-7 7-6 win over the Spaniard: ‘I think his attitude looks like it has been way more positive in the last few weeks. Maybe that’s the work with Ivan and having the tennis in his legs. He was speaking a lot to his box on Tuesday but was very positive.’
Evans, who fought back from 3-5 in the decider against the tough Buatista Agut, now faces world No 8 Andrey Rublev. Norrie will take on the Spaniard who is the talk of the town, Carlos Alacaraz, after edging out giant John Isner 6-4 6-7 6-4.
The 34-year-old Scot has marked his return to clay with two impressive victories in Spain
It was a performance all the more creditable for being put on the small outside court Number Four, where there was little runback to the fence.
Norrie, having to fend off his opponent’s enormous serves, was unhappy with the venue, especially as a doubles was scheduled on a bigger show court.
‘The court size changed the tactics of the match and made it impossible for me to go back (as far as I wanted) to return the serve. I was going to be on court three the whole time and then suddenly they changed it all.
‘ I think it showed a little bit of disrespect to myself and to John as well sticking us out there. I had to take the serve on the rise and luckily, I returned really great today. I had about five metres at the back, at one point I ran back and I actually had my racket on the fence and we were just on like a rally ball.
‘The tournament said we want to have the Spanish guys on all the big courts which is okay, but for me to put a doubles match ahead of the singles matches, I don’t really understand the reasoning of that.’
Djokovic praised the Brit on his determination to return after twice undergoing hip surgery