ONE of the key takeaways from the longest Wimbledon final in history is the fact that Andy Murray remains the only man to have defeated Novak Djokovic in an SW19 showpiece.

But when the Serb emerged strongest at the end of his absorbing five-hour arm wrestle with Roger Federer on Sunday evening, it was also a daunting reminder of how long the journey is likely to be if the Scot is ever to be back mixing it on a regular basis with the best players to have walked the planet.

Remarkably, the men’s doubles final on Saturday evening – which both Murray brothers were hoping to play their way into – lasted the same length of time as the singles did on Sunday. But in terms of the physical toll the matches placed on the body, they were hardly similar.

“Playing doubles compared to singles isn’t like 50% more workload, it is more like 75 to 80%,” explains the Scot’s former coach Mark Petchey. “You don’t get three service games off in every four and it is much more than half the court you have to cover, especially against guys like Rafa, Novak and everyone else.”

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At least, like Djokovic, Murray still has time on his side. Born within a week of his great Serb rival in 1987, the Scot too can count himself in the catalogue of players encouraged to see Federer displaying such staying power at the ripe old age of 37.

With Djokovic (16), greedily eating into the tallies of Nadal (18) and Federer (20), it now seems as though the Scot’s three major titles only make him a glorified bit-part player in this greatest ever era. But having appeared to gain ascendancy on the pack when being crowned world No.1 at the end of 2016, how many more Grand Slams might he have added had he not been struck down within a matter of weeks by this devilish hip complaint? And at whose expense?

Petchey (right) for one feels Murray remains driven by the prospect of greater Grand Slam glory. “Winning, being No.1 in the world, taking another slam, that is what he wants,” said the Scot’s former coach. “To be competitive, to get out there and give himself a chance against his biggest rivals, that is what Andy is looking to do. There is no way in my opinion that Andy would come back if he didn’t genuinely feel he had a chance in one of these big four events.”

How far is he away from that level this morning? Well, another bout of physical testing this week should provide him more of an answer. While he felt far enough off the pace back in January following a practice set with Djokovic to sign up for surgery, even pre-op he was able to last five tight sets with Roberto Bautista-Agut, one of the successes of this tournament.

With time still on his side, it is a prudent course of action not to rush back into a full-blown singles return ahead of this year’s US Open. That could also be good news for Scottish fans, who could get to see him up close and personal in Scotstoun in mid-September at an LTA event christened the Murray Trophy in his family’s honour. An appearance at the inaugural Davis Cup finals in Madrid in November makes sense too, even if it hands Leon Smith a difficult decision over who to field in singles ties.

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As Petchey explains, the Scot will need to find a way to put the hours in on the gym and practice court in a way which strengthens the hip but doesn’t add to the wear and tear on his body. He has already complained of stiffness in his back, perhaps brought on by his metal hip, in the early stages of his comeback.

“The doubles court and practice looks fantastic, but a lot will depend long term on the workload that he is going to have to put on himself to get him back into the kind of physical conditioning he needs to do well on the singles court,” says Petchey.

“In terms of hitting a ball he doesn’t look far off it all to be honest but to put that together with all the movement he needs is going to be extremely challenging. That is whey there is such a good case for playing a Challenger event first, just to get back on the court. We have to understand what it entails to get back. There is no point rushing it.”

Having conducted that courtside interview in Melbourne in January, and also one for Amazon Prime video where the Scot candidly revealed his hopes for a full recovery, few have been as wrapped up in at all as Petchey.

“That was awkward,” he recalls of Australia, “I wasn’t sure where he was at, and I genuinely don’t think he knew at that stage what he was going to do. There was a chance that was it, but obviously, thankfully, it looks like he will be back at the Grand Slams – in some shape or form.”