The Australian Open is fast approaching, albeit slightly delayed by a couple of weeks to an alternative start date of February 8th, and once again Andy Murray has been rewarded with a wild card for 2021’s first major.
It was at the Melbourne-based tournament in 2019 that the Scot feared his career was over. Murray lost a thrilling first round encounter in five sets against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut, and afterwards, he tearfully said: “If this was my last match, it was an amazing way to end. I gave everything I had – it wasn’t enough tonight.”
A chronic hip injury has hindered the latter years of his stunning career, but despite it looking like it was all over two years ago, at 33 years of age, Murray isn’t giving up that easily. There’s been blood, sweat and tears over the last few years, but the Scot is fighting through the pain to lengthen his playing days.
Currently ranked at 122nd in the world, Murray is well below the threshold to gain entry to the major tournaments, and just like he did at last year’s US and French Opens, the two-time Wimbledon winner was just gifted entry to the main draw of the Australian Open with a wild card.
However, due to his recent below-par performances, which include being dismissed from the French Open in the first round by Stan Wawrinka and knocked out of the US Open in the second round by Félix Auger-Aliassime, some people have started to criticise Murray continually being given a direct route into the major tournaments.
Former World No. 1 Mats Wilander was one of the most high-profile figures to slam Murray when he accepted the wild card offered to him by the French Open bosses, with the Swede claiming that the 33-year-old was only thinking about himself.
“I keep getting a little bit disappointed, is it his right to be out there doing that? Why? I did it and I shouldn’t have, it was the biggest mistake I did in my career,” said Wilander.
“I think Andy Murray needs to stop thinking of himself and start thinking about who he was. Does he have a right to be out there taking wildcards from the young players?”
Of course, many ex-players and coaches jumped to Murray’s defence over the comments, including his own former trainers Ivan Lendl and Daniel Vallverdu, with the latter, who currently coaches Wawrinka, branding Wilander ‘absolutely pathetic’ on his twitter account.
However, does Wilander have a point? Murray’s performances at last year’s majors were subdued, but in his defence, he was up against it with some tough draws. 35-year-old Wawrinka is currently ranked 18th in the world, whilst 20-year-old Auger-Aliassime is already in the top 20 and is considered to be one of the best upcoming players at the moment.
He did show glimpses of his former self last month at the Battle of the Brits, beating Dan Evans (British No.1) and Cameron Norrie (British No.3) in straight sets. However, Murray will be some way back in the 2021 Australian Open odds, and another early exit could see pressure begin to mount when making those future wild card decisions.