Murray finds spark before long-awaited return at Australian Open

Murray's last match at Melbourne Park was a grinding five-set defeat by Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut where he gave everything he had.

Since major surgery on his troublesome hip in 2019, little has come easy to the 34-year-old who won the last of his three Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 2016.   -  GETTY IMAGES

Tears, pain and a defiant five-set loss marked Andy Murray's last appearance at the Australian Open but the Scot will stroll Melbourne Park's grounds with a positive outlook for the first time in three years.

On Sunday, Murray played his first ATP final since Antwerp in 2019. Although he lost in straight sets to Russian bruiser Aslan Karatsev at the Sydney Tennis Classic, it was an encouraging start to the year for the Briton.

"There are many positive things to having good runs in these tournaments," Murray told reporters.

"I didn't have to worry so much about that before."

READ: Djokovic's absence from Australian Open loss for game: ATP

Since major surgery on his troublesome hip in 2019, little has come easy to the 34-year-old who won the last of his three Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon in 2016.

His last match at Melbourne Park was a grinding five-set defeat by Spain's Roberto Bautista Agut where he gave everything he had.

At his pre-match media conference, he had sobbed uncontrollably, revealing his hip pain was so bad that he thought his career might be over.

Another fitness setback saw him miss the 2020 tournament and last year it was a COVID-19 infection and Australia's strict 14-day quarantine rule that scuttled his return.

Now, he arrives at Melbourne Park with a wildcard and a ranking outside the top 100, a far cry from his halcyon days as a feared competitor who reached the final five times.

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He faces Georgia's 21st seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in the first round on Tuesday and is glad for the momentum built in Sydney heading into a tricky opening clash.

"I have put so much work and effort into getting back into these positions and to be competing for tournaments again," said Murray.

"It's not a goal of mine to get to a specific ranking, like in the next year.

"But improving your ranking and getting yourself up into the top 50, top 30, top 20, (it) allows you to be seeded in tournaments."

Andy Murray expressed sympathy for Novak Djokovic after the Serb's hopes of winning a record 21st Grand Slam title at this year's Australian Open ended on Sunday at the conclusion of a long-running visa saga.

Murray, who has lost four Australian Open finals to his career-long rival Djokovic, said he felt for his old junior rival.

"It is not great for the tournament because it is better when all of the top players are playing in the event," wildcard Murray was quoted as saying by the BBC.

"There are obviously going to be a lot of questions about what has happened here and the situation he has been in.

"Novak is someone I have known since we were 12 years old, he is someone who I respect and have competed against. I don't like he is in this situation and I don't like he has been in detention."

The furore over the unvaccinated Djokovic's medical exemption from Australia's strict COVID-19 rules has completely overshadowed the build-up to the Australian Open and Murray criticised the handling of the situation.

"The situation has not been good all round for anyone. It feels everything here happened extremely last minute and that's why it became such a mess," Murray said.

"Hopefully, that won't be the case at other events so there is no other situation like this. I wouldn't want that for Novak, don't want that for tennis and hopefully it is done now."

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