BRISBANE, Australia – There are certain moments during the leadup to a tournament that stand out. Small moments that hold surprising significance.
And Andy Murray taking to Pat Rafter Arena in Brisbane Saturday for a practice match with Andy Murray was one of those moments.
Here’s what it looked like.
Given they’re well into their 30s, and that both have been through some pretty challenging physical setbacks in the last few years – and given their long history together – it was a moment to enjoy.
The two are not frequent practice partners, even though they’ve known each other forever.
But on this day, in this venue, with Nadal returning after nearly a year’s absence and Murray still fighting with everything he has to squeeze every last moment out of his considerable talent, you got to see just why they are who they are, and why they’ve had the careers they’ve had.
There was no banter. There were no racquet claps for great shots. There were no smiles.
It was just … work. Hard work. Intense work fueled by a desire that comes from somewhere deep inside for two fellows who’ve already made more money than all their future grandkids can ever spend, and have won more than they probably thought possible back when they were eager teenagers with (now past tense) luxurious heads of hair.
It was a practice set played at the intensity of a tournament final. By two guys who have nothing left to prove to anyone, except perhaps to themselves.
Even knowing that’s probably how they’ll play it doesn’t prepare you for the ferocity of it.
They dug for every single ball. They ran until they couldn’t run any more. They were annoyed at themselves every time they missed a shot they thought they should make. If you ever wonder why some players are great and some are … legendary, you can see the seeds of it right there – 30 years after they started playing. They just don’t know any other way.
Not sure they got the set finished, it might have been close to a tiebreak with Ben Shelton, JJ Wolf, Grigor Dimitrov and Matteo Arnaldi came to kick them off the court.
Look at Murray’s shirt.
Nadal looking fit and … forward
The Spaniard’s sleeveless shirt couldn’t have been … more snug. And while absence might blur the memory a little, you’d have to think back awhile to remember when he last looked this fit.
He moved well, too – seemingly without any restrictions. And if his practice sessions are any indication, he plans to return with a bit more forward thinking in his game.
Nadal has practiced a lot of serve-drop volley combinations. He’s leaning into the court a little more on his serve, and he seems to be taking the ball a bit earlier.
Every point he can shorten, at this stage, certain might slow the sands in the hourglass.
Both Nadal and Murray are playing doubles on Sunday to open their seasons.
Nadal is teaming up with his former doubles partner, now coach, Marc Lopez. And Andy Murray is playing with young gun Holger Rune.
Nadal’s first singles match back will be against a qualifier (which could be … Dominic Thiem or even Diego Schwartzman, a crazy thought). Murray didn’t fare much better; he drew Grigor Dimitrov. The top-10 30-somethings are representing hard.
Thanks for the opportunity to be back on the court with you..Good luck with the comeback 💪 https://t.co/ZzmvTMhHUD— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) December 30, 2023
Will it be the final season for one of them? Both of them? No way to know.
But this meeting in Brisbane was a reminder of how great this generation was and is. In a few years, when these two, and Novak Djokovic, and Stan Wawrinka join Roger Federer in the great Final Eight Slam Lounge of retirement, the sport is going to seriously feel it.
In the meantime, these types of summit moments are a privilege for those lucky enough to be on hand to see them.