While Novak Djokovic lifted his third Musketeers Cup and made history in Paris becoming the male player with the most Grand Slam in history (23), that same Sunday in June, Andy Murray (36 years old and 40th in the ranking ATP) also lifted a title: the challenger of Surbiton on grass, a tournament of fifth category. The contrast is striking, even more so when, until not long ago, the Scotsman was also winning Grand Slams (two Wimbledons and one US Open) and leading the world tennis rankings. The terrible hip injury caused Murray to retire and start over from scratch, but he wasn’t the only one who went down to the mud to return to playing in big tournaments. Injuries also led to Gael Monfils (36 years old and number 276 of the ranking) to fight in challengers and Milos Raonic (32 years old and 545 in the ranking) reserve invitations to tournaments to once again rub shoulders with the best. This has been the case in Toronto, where Murray, Monfils and Raonic meet in the round of 16.
“I hope to find the motivation to continue training and improve again. Motivation plays a big role in it. Losing many times in the first rounds does not help. I don’t plan to stop for now”, confirmed a hurt Murray when asked about the withdrawal, after losing in the second round of Wimbledon against the Greek Tsitsipas. The Scotsman who, since he returned to the slopes in 2021, with a hip prosthesis, accepted his new reality, going from playing the final rounds to having to take points and sensations in the aforementioned challengers: “I wish I had dropped down a category sooner and I wish I would have played more at this level”, confirmed Murray after winning both challengers before Wimbledon.
The fact that great players have had to go through these lower-level tournaments, often due to injuries, has always been seen as a sign of decline and loss of play. But nothing is further from reality, in these categories there are several Top 100 who do not want to lose pace and prefer to gain confidence over the course of a week than to give up in each first round of ATP 250 or 500 tournaments. And Gael Monfils, one of the great surprises of the Canadian Masters 1000, has also passed through these tournaments.
The Frenchman’s case is due to an ankle injury that occurred just a year ago. When he seemed to be experiencing a second youth, ranked 20th in the standings, Monfils injured his ankle, missing the rest of the season. Since then, he has fought against himself and injuries to remain that athletic and elastic player. His victories do not accompany him in 2023 but at Roland Garros he allowed himself to pay tribute. At home and in front of his fans, Monfils defeated Argentine Báez in five sets in the first round of the great Parisian in a match that ended at one o’clock in the morning, with the Frenchman cramping and raising a 0-4 scoreline in the last partial. Although the years go by, he always gives pills of his tennis with jumps and juggling. It does not change Monfils that, after beating Tsitsipas (6-4 and 6-3) he will fight this morning against the Australian Vucik to get a place among the eight best in the Canadian tournament.
Raonic had worse luck, spending all of 2022 without playing an official match, weighed down by an Achilles heel with four micro-tears and with the idea of retirement hanging around his head. He did not go through challengers thanks to the figure of the protected ranking, which allows long-term injuries to participate in tournaments of their choice, since they did not have any ATP points. Without losing his essence and his great service, Milos wants to extend his good feelings in his land and will face the American Mcdonald to advance to the quarterfinals.
Stanislas Wawrinka does not play this tournament but he deserves special mention for being another of the tennis players who does not accept to finish playing the sport he loves. The also champion of three Grand Slams (Roland Garros, Australia Open and US Open) and ranked 49th was excited after losing in the final of Umag last July and losing the opportunity to win a title six years later: “I know it is stupid to cry, but I love this sport and you guys make it special.” Although he no longer has the level of yesteryear, the Swiss maintains his serve and his powerful forehand present on the circuit.
Wawrinka’s tears, Murray’s screams, Monfils’ jumps or Raonic’s kicks, are scenes from four successful careers getting closer and closer to ending. They fight every point, trying to delay the natural process of a tennis player’s life as much as possible. Retirement appears closer and closer but his love and pride prevents them from leaving the racket.
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