Australian Open: A fully fit Murray could raise his game to join the legends

Sunnier times...Andy Murray with his Wimbledon trophy by the Fred Perry statue
Sunnier times...Andy Murray with his Wimbledon trophy by the Fred Perry statue

Newly crowned SPOTY winner Andy Murray has announced his comeback to a competitive tennis court. Ralph Ellis will be watching his return to fitness very closely...

"Murray's current price of 8.415/2 to win the Australian Open could be an absolute steal. Last year saw his third appearance in the final at Melbourne in four seasons, and if he did that with his back giving him pain then what might he do if he’s fully fit?"

Andy Murray has already played a few big games against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. There was a shock defeat in the 2008 Australian Open when unseeded Tsonga came from nowhere to reach the final; A comeback from a set down to win a Wimbledon quarter-final in 2010; and of course another Centre Court showdown two years later when the Scot reached his first Wimbledon final.

So in normal circumstances it would be hard to get excited about the fact that he's just confirmed he'll face the Frenchman again on Boxing Day in an exhibition game in Abu Dhabi. The Mubadala World Tennis Championship might also have Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the field, but it is still basically just an opportunity for them all to add a few extra million to their bank balances after Christmas - a bit like you and me volunteering for overtime before the January credit card bills come.

For Murray, however, these are not normal circumstances. At 26 he is facing a defining season in his career which decides if he can go on and win multiple titles and become one of the legends of the World game, or whether he will only ever be a British hero.

It was back in September that Britain's first men's Wimbledon champion in 77 years booked himself in for surgery on the disc problem in his lower back that had been troubling him for two years. The constant soreness had contributed to his failure to take a defence of his US Open title beyond the quarter-finals. He knew that unless something was done the problem could only get worse.

Now comes the first outing on a serious tennis court since. And for the newly crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year, who has been working through his pre-season training routines in Miami, it is a critical test of his return to fitness.

Murray himself has admitted just how much the back injury restricted him. "There have been shots that I have just not been able to hit for the last 18 months or so," he said recently. "It was too painful and I couldn't generate the power - the operation should allow me to play as I want, and no longer be sort of managing an issue."

That's why this game with Tsonga will be so important because we can't gauge how successful the surgery has been until we see him in action. But the initial feedback coming out from his Miami camp has all been positive. And there is no doubt that Murray, who is 4.1 to retain the Wimbledon title he fought so hard to earn in the first place, has the hunger and ambition to do it.

Long before that his current price of 8.415/2 to win the Australian Open could be an absolute steal. Last year saw his third appearance in the final at Melbourne in four seasons, and if he did that with his back giving him pain then what might he do if he's fully fit? Boxing Day in Abu Dhabi will give us some answers.

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