THE news that Andy Murray will, in all likelihood, miss the first half of the year comes as a blow not only to the man himself but also to tennis fans in this country and across the globe.

With Murray skipping the last five months of 2017, there were significant worries about his fitness but the fact that he travelled to Australia ahead of the Australian Open gave much cause for optimism.

However, his withdrawal from the first Grand Slam of the year was quickly followed by his announcement yesterday that he has undergone hip surgery and is targeting a return to the game in time for the grass court season, which begins in mid-June.

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It is a severe setback for the 30 year-old, who had stated the surgery was not his first choice due to the fact that there was no guarantee that it would cure the problem in his hip. The former world number one, however, clearly felt that he had run out of non-surgical options and chose to go under the knife in Melbourne yesterday.

Murray’s fitness has given significant cause for concern at different points throughout his career but this current issue appears to be the most serious of the lot. The Scot has been told that, all going to plan, he could be back on court within seven or eight weeks, with a full return estimated to take around fourteen weeks.

While Murray has given no hints of a timescale for retirement from professional tennis, he is certainly closer to the end of his career than the beginning and it is inevitable that a 30 year-old body takes longer to recover from injury than a 20 year-old one does.

However, he is adamant that this latest injury setback will not signal the end of his career, insisting that he has the drive and the determination to return to the highest level of tennis. “I’m not finished playing tennis yet. I’m going to be competing at the highest level again,” he said before adding: “I’m very optimistic about the future - the surgeon is very happy about how it went.” He also posted on his Instagram account that he is “feeling positive and is looking forward to starting rehab”.

Certainly Murray does not seem disheartened by this latest setback. The challenge he has though is that the hammering his body has taken over the past decade-or-so on the ATP Tour will have had an accumulative effect and this makes it harder and harder each time to regain full fitness.

Murray is entirely reliant on his physicality to succeed. He is, of course, technically flawless and tactically superb but without his raw physical prowess, everything else matters little. Murray does not beat his opponents by hitting winners left, right and centre – rather, he wears his opponent down by getting one more ball back than anyone else in the world could manage. If that ability is dented, even slightly, his effectiveness is damaged severely.

Murray is one of the greatest athletes that tennis has ever seen but to regain that level of fitness after almost a year out of competitive action will be unspeakably difficult.

That he appears more motivated than ever to return is a positive sign. The rehabilitation process from any surgery is, at the start at least, mind-numbingly boring, with the prospect of weeks of low-level rehab exercises enough to put anyone off making an attempt to return.

However, another of Murray’s qualities that makes him great is his mental strength and his Instagram post last week in which he wrote of his love of the game is enough to suggest that he will do his level best to bounce back from this hip operation.

The rehabilitation process rarely goes entirely smoothly - bumps in the road may be minor but they are rarely absent entirely. Murray’s state of mind appears to be as healthy as ever - it remains to be seen if his body can return to that. Of all the challenges he has faced throughout his career, this may be the toughest.