Murray's Talent Undimmed, but Fitness Factor Clouds Open Return
Former world number one Andy Murray's ranking dropped as low as 839 during 2018 as he played only six tournaments, with the Scot arriving in Melbourne looking to prove he can compete again at the top level.
The three-time major winner and double Olympic champion pulled out of last year's Australian Open to have hip surgery and only returned in June on grass at Queen's Club in London and then played on the same surface at Eastbourne.
He sat out Wimbledon in July and made just four more tournament appearances, including a Grand Slam return at the U..S Open, before ending his season after Shenzhen in September to concentrate on working his way back to full fitness.
Despite his truncated season Murray showed glimpses of his best -- most notably in his third comeback event at Washington in August.
Murray won three grueling three-set matches in his first hard-court event after surgery to reach the quarter-finals, including an impressive victory against British number one Kyle Edmund who was a semi-finalist in Melbourne a year ago.
Murray's fierce will to win was amply demonstrated as he survived a final-set tie-break in a last-16 epic against Marius Copil that ended at 3:02 am with the Scot bursting into tears.
In his final event of 2018 in Shenzhen, Murray showed his talent was undimmed -- recording his first comeback victory over a top 10 player against David Goffin before closing down his season to finish with a year-end ranking of 240. He enters the Australian Open at 230.
He was upbeat after winning his first match of the season at Brisbane last week but was easily beaten in the next round in straight sets by Russia's world number 15 Daniil Medvedev.
"In the second set I made a few too many mistakes," Murray said. "I think when you obviously play better players, I mean he's 15 in the world or so, they will expose any errors that you make in your game."
But it is his body's ability to withstand five-set matches over two weeks in energy-sapping heat that will be the unknown factor for a man searching for a first Australian Open title at the age of 31.
"There are still things that I want to achieve," said Murray.
"I have been so close so many times that the Australian Open is the one I would pick to win if I could," added the Scot who has lost in five previous Melbourne finals.
"I missed playing here and I'm going to go out and compete as hard as I can. Whether I am capable of that I don't really know."
Murray confirmed he still has some pain from his hip, but said he was "in a better place than I was a few months ago."
"I owed it to myself to give myself the best possible shot to get back to a level I was happy with."