LONDON (AP) — Everything’s changed for Andy Murray at Wimbledon this time.
A two-time champion at the All England Club, he’s not really considered a serious title contender — by himself or by anyone else, for that matter.
He is not as prepared as usual as the grass-court Grand Slam tournament’s Monday start approaches, having played a total of three matches all year after recently returning from hip surgery.
He is not seeded, because his ranking is outside the top 150.
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Murray is, however, thrilled to be playing, provided nothing crops up before he’s scheduled to face Benoit Paire of France in the first round Tuesday.
“I always want to be here competing. It feels a little bit odd coming into the tournament this year,” Murray said Saturday after practicing at the All England Club. “Normally, like, at this stage, I feel really nervous, lots of pressure, and I expect a lot of myself around this time of year. I’ve always loved that and enjoyed that in a way. It has been difficult, but enjoyed it. Whereas this year, it feels very, very different.”
The first British man in 77 years to win a Wimbledon singles title when he did so in 2013, before adding another in 2016, Murray lost in the quarterfinals in 2017 to Sam Querrey, clearly hampered by his hip. Murray wound up not playing another match last season, then had his operation in January.
Nearly 12 full months had passed by the time he ventured back into competition at the Queen’s Club grass-court event less than two weeks ago. Still with a hitch in his gait, Murray played more than 2½ hours before losing to Nick Kyrgios in three sets.
This week, again on grass, Murray beat fellow three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, before losing to countryman Kyle Edmund.
“I’m pumped obviously because, I mean, four or five weeks ago, I didn’t know whether I’d be capable of competing at a level I’d be happy with. I think the last couple of weeks has been beneficial,” said Murray, a two-time Olympic singles gold medalist whose first Grand Slam championship came at the 2012 U.S. Open. “I don’t think I played amazing in the matches, but I think I’ve done well, considering the opponents.”
Now comes Paire, a former member of the top 20 who is currently ranked 48th.
Murray has won both of their two previous matchups, including in the fourth round at Wimbledon a year ago.
“He’s a tricky guy to play against, because of his style,” Murray said. “He does hit a lot of drop shots, he serve-volleys. He’s unorthodox with his shot selection and stuff. He can be quite up and down, too, at times.”
Get past that test, and Murray could face No. 26 Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the second round.
Asked to assess how deep he might be able to go in the draw, Murray rested his chin on his right hand and exhaled.
“I don’t know. Because how am I supposed to tell you how I’m going to feel if I play for four hours in the first match? I can’t answer that question honestly,” he said. “In terms of how I would fare, how I would do in the tournament, results-wise, I have no idea.”
Murray is accustomed to experiencing so much pressure and attention during this fortnight.
That should ease, theoretically at least. Any fair assessment would conclude that Murray’s streak of reaching at least the quarterfinals at the past 10 Wimbledons is in jeopardy.
There are other owners of multiple titles at the tournament known simply as The Championships who will be hounded about their prospects: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal among the men; Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova among the women. (Williams was slated to hold a news conference Saturday, but it was moved at the last minute to Sunday because of what was described as a scheduling conflict.)
For the first time in a dozen years, Murray is not Britain’s highest-ranked male tennis player.
That honor — burden? — belongs to Kyle Edmund, who is seeded 21st at Wimbledon and reached his first Grand Slam semifinal at the Australian Open.
“Andy being here is obviously great from a tennis fan point of view,” Edmund said. “But also being British, having a bit of a personal relationship with him, it’s good to see him back after pretty much a year out.”
More AP tennis coverage: https://www.apnews.com/tag/apf-Tennis