Tennis: Swede Johansson says Andy Murray should 'be nice' to himself in comeback

SHANGHAI – One walking from the players’ restaurant to the mixed zone of the Rolex Shanghai Masters tennis tournament, approximately 100 metres apart, would pass by five pictures of Andy Murray on the walls of the Qi Zhong Stadium.

This presence – his picture also lines a fence surrounding the practice courts – is one of the reasons former player Thomas Johansson’s advice to Murray during the latter’s injury comeback is this: “Be nice to yourself.”

Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open champion, told The Straits Times on Monday (Oct 7): “If you walk around here you see his name everywhere; he has won, he has played so well.

“Now, he has to fight from the first match, which he did before as well, but he was so much better than most of the players at the beginning. Now he is, for the moment, quite level with the players that he plays.”

Three-time Shanghai champion Murray, who is on his comeback after undergoing surgery on his right hip in January, received a wildcard into the tournament and overcame a slow start on Monday to beat 56th-ranked qualifier Juan Ignacio Londero 2-6, 6-2, 6-3.

The 32-year-old Briton, a three-time Grand Slam champion, now ranked 289th in the world, made his singles return at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in August.

Johansson, 44, is familiar with competing after injury. He was sidelined for 14 months from 2002 due to a knee injury and did not compete in 2003.

Reflecting on his own time away from competitive tennis and how tough it initially was when he returned in 2004, the Swede said it took him six months to return to his “normal” level.

“The hardest thing for me was that for some matches that you lost, you know that if you’d have played this guy a year ago, I would’ve killed him,” added Johansson, who is now the coach of Belgian David Goffin.

“So I had to be very humble and I had to be nice to myself when I came back. My coach always said being on the court is a bonus, and it’s a big bonus if you win, but it’s tough to say that to a professional player because every time we go out, we think we’re going to win.

“So it was very tough for me mentally in the beginning, to lose a lot of matches against players I was better than.”

Murray, whose career-high ranking is No. 1, lost in the first round in straight sets both in Cincinnati and at the Winston-Salem Open in North Carolina a week later.

He has had better results in Asia, however, reaching the second round of the Zhuhai Championships last month and losing in three sets to Australian Alex de Minaur. He also beat eighth seed Matteo Berrettini en route to the quarter-finals of last week’s China Open in Beijing, where he lost to eventual champion Dominic Thiem.

Johansson, who retired in 2009, is positive that if Murray’s hip holds up, it is “just a matter of time” before the former world No. 1 regains his groove.

“At (almost) every tournament he played before, he was pretty much reaching the semis or finals or winning,” added Johansson.

“You don’t know if he’s going to come back to the top five, top 10 or top 20. But like I said, he’s such a good player and an intelligent player on court, so I’m sure he will come back.”

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