by AFP/ pic by AFP
MELBOURNE – Andy Murray (picture) will make his Grand Slam return at the Australian Open in January, a year after career-saving hip surgery, tournament organisers announced Tuesday.
The British three-time major winner has been slowly working his way back to fitness and is now ranked 289th, up from 503rd just a week ago.
The 32-year-old won his opening match at the Shanghai Masters on Monday, beating Argentine qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero in three sets, following a quarter-final appearance in Beijing last week.
With his confidence seemingly growing by the day, Australian Open organisers said the former world number one had committed to extending his comeback into the majors in January.
“Confirmed: Andy Murray will return to compete at the #AusOpen in 2020,” they tweeted.
The official Australian Open website said Murray “will return to the main draw with a protected ranking of number two and restored physical powers”.
World number one Novak Djokovic said it was “pleasantly surprising” to see Murray back following hip-resurfacing surgery.
“Regardless of his ranking currently, he is a great champion and one of the greats of this game,” the reigning Australian Open champion said at the Shanghai Masters.
“If he’s healthy, you can definitely expect him to play at the highest level very soon.
“I wish him that, it’s great to see him back.”
Murray has made the final five times at Melbourne Park, losing four times to Djokovic and once to Roger Federer. However, arguably his most heartbreaking moment at the season-opening Grand Slam came not on the court but at an emotional press conference before this year’s tournament.
Murray broke down in tears describing how the pain in his right hip, which had been operated on six months earlier, had become unbearable.
“I can play with limitations. But having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” he said, later revealing that even walking his dog had become an ordeal.
Tributes flowed for the well-liked Scot, with Billie Jean King calling him “a champion on and off court”.
Players also farewelled him in an emotional video screened on centre court after he lost an epic five-setter to Roberto Bautista Agut, with most believing his Grand Slam career was over.
“It was a very emotional Australian Open for him and for many tennis fans,” Djokovic added on Tuesday.
“But it seemed like it was too early to goodbye and it’s great to have him back.”
Murray said after his win over Londero in Shanghai that his movement on the court felt like it was steadily improving.
“In the beginning I didn’t necessarily feel good, but last couple of weeks have been I think much improved,” he said.
In 2013, Murray became the first British man to win Wimbledon for 77 years, ending the nation’s obsession with finding a champion to follow in the footsteps of Fred Perry.
He repeated the feat in 2016, adding to a glittering career that also includes the 2012 US Open, two Olympic gold medals and 45 ATP crowns.
Australian Open organisers hope there will be another blast from the past if Belgium’s Kim Clijsters can meet her goal of taking to the court again in January after an absence of more than seven years.
A crowd favourite in Melbourne, the 36-year-old retired to have a family but made a surprise announcement last month that she was making a comeback in 2020.
Clijsters has won four Grand Slams, including the 2011 Australian Open.