It has been a frustrating period for Andy Murray since he returned to the ATP Tour but there have been recent signs the former world number one can get back to the top.
The 34-year-old was knocked out of the Indian Wells Masters in the third round on Tuesday night in a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) defeat by Olympic champion Alexander Zverev.
After beating Adrian Mannarino in the first round and coming out on top in a three-set thriller against emerging star Carlos Alcaraz Garfia, Murray came unstuck against Zverev.
Since pulling out of the Olympic singles, Murray has come through a lot of tennis matches unscathed during the second half of the season, which is encouraging.
If his body can hold up to the rigours of the game, his fitness, sharpness, mental strength and ability to win tennis matches will only benefit.
Ignoring a defeat to Roman Safiullin, ranked 158 in the world, in a challenger event, Murray’s losses have been against quality players in tight matches.
Hubert is his nemesis
In the ATP Masters 1000 event in Cincinnati, Murray lost to ATP Finals hopeful Hubert Hurkacz in straight sets (7-6, 6-3). However, the Scot had chances to win the first set before eventually losing it on a tie-break.
Murray lost by the same scoreline to American Frances Tiafoe at the Winston-Salem tournament the following week. The three-time Grand Slam winner was knocked out in both tournaments at the round of 32 stage.
At the US Open, Murray went toe to toe with third seed Stefanos Tsitsipas in the first round before losing in a five-set epic.
But in a match that lasted almost five hours, Murray didn’t waver physically. He was in the game but, again, it was his inability to get over the line in big matches that thwarted him.
In the quarter-finals in Metz, Murray was again met by his nemesis Hurkacz, who triumphed once more (7-6, 6-3).
And in San Diego, Murray’s last tournament prior to Indian Wells, he was beaten by another ATP Finals hopeful Casper Ruud in the last 16 (7-5, 6-4).
Murray isn’t getting beaten by low-ranked players and he’s knocking on the door of going deep in tournaments once again.
Andy Murray needs a strong finish to set up a big year
Murray plans to skip next month’s Davis Cup to give his body a break ahead of Australia next year.
But he has accepted wild cards to play in Antwerp and Vienna during the next two weeks.
After being dismantled by Denis Shapovalov in the third round of Wimbledon, Murray is looking competitive against the big names once again.
Admittedly he’s competing at a time Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal aren’t playing frequently, but the other man who formed the ‘Big Four’ looks to be ticking over nicely.
Nobody wants to lose, especially a competitor like Murray, but it’s the manner in which he’s losing that’s encouraging. We’re talking fine margins.
Next year could be a big one for Murray and if he can continue to build momentum during the remaining tournaments this season, his ranking will improve and his draw will become kinder.
He may not compete for the biggest prizes in tennis again – but his resurgence is building.