Andy Murray completed a remarkable winning return to action with victory in the doubles at Queen’s Club alongside Feliciano Lopez.
The Scot, who was close to retiring five months ago due to the hip injury which left him struggling to walk without pain, let alone play tennis, strolled off with the silverware at his first attempt back.
Murray and Lopez – the latter ‘fresh’ from winning the singles title less than an hour earlier – beat Britain’s Joe Salisbury and Rajeev Ram of the United States 7-6 (6) 5-7 10-5 after a third-set match tie-break.
Murray had insisted after their first-round victory that winning was not his number one priority this week. After all, it was only five months ago that the former world number one tearfully announced that the Australian Open could be his last tournament.
This, then, was supposed to be a tentative comeback, testing out the new metal hip after a career-saving operation and getting a few games under his belt, with a view to gradually building up to a return to singles. But the three-time grand slam champion clearly has not lost the appetite for a battle.
The fledgling partnership were 5-1 down in a first-set tie-break but fought back to level, and took it when Ram pushed a forehand wide.
The second set went the way of Salisbury and Ram after Murray dropped serve, and like so many matches during Murray’s career, it went to the wire.
Lopez, who must have been running on empty, somehow conjured up a series of stunning winners in the match tie-break to secure his own personal double and an unlikely, but welcome, victory for Murray.
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Andy Murray‘s competitive return to action will conclude with a scarcely believable appearance in the final at Queen’s Club after partner Feliciano Lopez went above and beyond the call of duty.
Five months after undergoing career-saving hip surgery Murray, supposedly taking baby steps on the comeback trail, is on the verge of a title at the very first attempt.
But it was Spaniard Lopez who put in the superhuman effort, spending just under five hours on court.
The 37-year-old initially took a break from his role as Murray’s support act to reach the singles final after winning a three-setter against teenage sensation Felix Augur-Aliassime.
Lopez, champion here two years ago, had a 12-minute breather between that 6-7 (3) 6-3 6-4 victory before he and Murray resumed their quarter-final, suspended due to fading light on Friday night, against British duo Dan Evans and Ken Skupski.
Just 14 minutes, three games and a tie-break later, Murray and Lopez had secured their place in the semi-final, and then sat waiting courtside for their next opponents, reigning Fever-Tree champions Henri Kontinen and John Peers.
Kontinen and Peers presented a big step up in class but somehow Murray and Lopez triumphed again, sharing the first two sets before staggering over the line in a match tie-break, 10-7.
Having taken to the court for his singles match at 4pm, an exhausted Lopez said at 8.55pm: “It’s crazy. If someone had told me a week ago, I would say you’re crazy.
“To be here again in the finals in both singles and doubles, it’s tough to believe, no?”
Murray, who revealed he had a chat with former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho before his time on court, added: “He did brilliant, really. Not just in the way he played but in the way he carried himself at the end of the match and stuff. Big energy, getting pumped.
“It was cool for me to see that, you know? He’s been on the tour for, like, 20 years and I appreciate that he’s got a big final in singles to play tomorrow and it’s getting dark and late for the second day in a row.
“But he did really, really well. Yeah, it was a great, great effort from him.”
Murray and Lopez will meet Rajeev Ram and Britain’s Joe Salisbury in the final on Sunday.
Salisbury, 27, who grew up just down the road in Putney, said: “I have won two ATP 500 titles before but I think this would be extra, extra special and sort of even bigger because I’m playing basically at home.”
Before that, however, Lopez will face Gilles Simon in the singles final.
Simon himself has been something of a marathon man this week and he came through another gruelling three-setter against Daniil Medvedev.
The Frenchman has gone the distance in all of his four matches, including the longest in the history of Queen’s Club against Nicolas Mahut, a three hour 20 minute marathon, on Thursday.
“It was hard to recover and this one was tough with long rallies,” said Simon.
“We practice together and we knew it would be long. It was a tough match.
“It’s hard for me to hit through him but I was feeling the ball great today, the feeling is great in the shot, even if it’s not in the legs!”
Meanwhile, Murray’s proposed mixed doubles stint at Wimbledon is unlikely to feature Maria Sharapova despite her online offer.
“I think we played once together before and I don’t remember us playing particularly well together,” he said.
Kyrgios created more negative headlines at Queen’s Club on Thursday after getting involved in rows with two umpires and throwing a racket over the stands following defeat to Felix Auger-Aliassime.
Queen’s was Kyrgios’ first ATP tournament since he was defaulted from the Italian Open in Rome last month after throwing a chair across the court, and gave an interview to the No Challenges Remaining podcast in which he criticised Djokovic and Rafael Nadal.
Kyrgios labelled Djokovic’s celebration, where he throws his arms out to the fans, “cringeworthy”, and said: “I feel like he just wants to be liked so much that I just can’t stand him.”
The 24-year-old certainly brings attention to tennis, something McEnroe was and is no stranger to, but he felt Kyrgios’ comments about Djokovic were a misstep.
Asked if Kyrgios’ outspoken attitude is a positive for the sport, the American said: “I guess if you look at it from that standpoint, if you are a believer in ‘any press is good press’, you can make that argument.
“If you say Novak, he’s too busy waving to the crowd, is that the best you can come up with? That he has decided to turn to all four parts of the stadium? I mean, come on. Doesn’t he deserve it since he has won 15 slams? He can do whatever the hell he wants.”
McEnroe can empathise with Kyrgios’ antics on court but finds the variation in his effort levels hard to swallow.
“I have talked with him,” said the Eurosport pundit.
“Nick is a good guy. I think the people around him like him. The players like him. They don’t like what he does on the court sometimes.
“I don’t think he could even say, ‘I like the fact that I try half the time’. I mean, how could anyone think that’s ultimately (good)?
“I wasn’t known as the easiest person to deal with. So, to me that person has to be ready to embrace whoever that is (trying to help). They have to be willing to listen to the person.
“He’s 24-years-old. He brings an electricity to tennis. That’s why everyone is trying to figure a way to work through this so he can get to a place where he can go out and feel free to compete and give the effort.
“I don’t care if he throws a chair on the court or does what he does. The part that I have a problem with, and I am assuming 99 per cent of the rest of the tour do, is when you go out there and don’t seem like you are giving an effort half of the time.”
Patience with Kyrgios that was more forthcoming when he was a teenager and in his early 20s appears to rapidly be running out, and the Australian shows no sign of changing any time soon.
Asked whether he believes Kyrgios will one day regret not making more of his talent, McEnroe said: “It would be hard to believe he wouldn’t think (that).
“He seems in certain ways not to care what people think. And that can be empowering. Alienating yourself, it takes some guts in a way to put yourself out there.
“He doesn’t need to say what he said about Novak. People are already talking. He could turn it into tennis hypothetically and still people would talk about him.”