Andy Murray believes he is closer to beating Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic than he was “seven or eight” weeks ago, leaving him feeling “excited” about his future.
Murray, 32, won the European Open title last month, only his seventh singles tournament since January’s hip surgery.
“I know if I played against the top players tomorrow there would be a very small chance of me winning that match,” the ex-world number one told BBC Sport.
“But I do feel I could win.”
Briton Murray feared he might have to retire after the hip resurfacing operation, but capped a remarkable return to singles action by beating fellow three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka in Antwerp to win his first title since March 2017.
“That’s one of the performance goals I want – when I go out on court against all of the players I want to feel like I have a chance of winning,” Murray said.
“Seven or eight weeks ago I wouldn’t have felt that was the case. Before Antwerp the conversations I was having with my team were ‘I’m not sure where I can get to’.
“If I continued along that path then I wouldn’t continue playing.
“It has been an up and down few years but I feel like I’m coming through the other side of it and excited to see what I can do over the next couple of years.
“It’s difficult to say exactly where I am. I’m not where I was when I was 25 but I don’t expect to be and I don’t need to be [in order] to be competitive at the highest level and that’s why I’m excited.
“I’m not going to set a target of top 10 or trying to make the semis of a Grand Slam because I’ve done all of that before and I don’t need that.
“I’m happy just being pain free, healthy and love what I’m doing.”
Murray on his doubts and almost not playing in Antwerp
After a successful doubles comeback where he won the Queen’s title, the two-time Wimbledon champion lost the opening two singles matches of his return and then continued his comeback out of the spotlight on the ATP Challenger Tour in Majorca while the world’s leading players were competing at the US Open.
Two straightforward wins on the Spanish island were followed by another defeat, this time by 240th-ranked Italian Matteo Viola, before he started to show signs of improvement on the Asian circuit, including a win over US Open semi-finalist Matteo Berrettini in Beijing.
“I watched videos of myself in Majorca and I looked a bit slow and I didn’t really like what I was seeing when I was watching myself,” added Murray, who has risen to 125th in the world rankings.
“From the beginning of the trip to Asia when I played the first tournament there, after the first day of practice, I was saying to my team ‘I’m not feeling this’.
“But once I started playing matches again I started to move a little bit better and stopped thinking about my hip during the matches. That was quite a big step for me to take.
“I almost didn’t go to Antwerp, I had a problem with my elbow which I had in Shanghai and I left Sunday afternoon on the train there and I didn’t know if I was going to play.
“Obviously, I’m thankful I did and ended up getting the title. It was completely unexpected.”
Murray on his return to Australia
After spending a few weeks at home in London following the arrival of his third child, Murray goes to Madrid on Wednesday to link up with the Great Britain squad for the inaugural Davis Cup week-long finals.
Then he will continue to build his fitness during the off-season before returning to the ATP Tour at the start of the 2020 season in Australia.
Murray has used a protected injury ranking to ensure his nation can play in the new ATP Cup, where he had been set to face Swiss great Federer in the group stage.
However, the 20-time Grand Slam champion pulled out of the tournament and Murray says it is “unfortunate” their meeting will not happen.
Murray hopes it will not be too long before he gets the chance to test himself against Federer, plus the other ‘big three’ players Djokovic and Nadal who are among the world’s top eight playing at the ATP Finals in London this week.
That could happen when he hopes to return to Melbourne, 12 months after Australian Open organisers played a farewell video following his first-round defeat by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut.
“I genuinely did feel there was more chance of that being the last time I played in Australia than the position I’m in now,” said Murray, who was speaking to the BBC at the launch of his new clothing range with sportswear brand Castore.
“I’m very lucky I get that chance again in January if I stay fit in the next couple of months and it’ll be fun to see what I can do.”
Murray on the arrival of his third child
Murray’s wife Kim gave birth to their third child at the end of October, a boy to join their two daughters, Sophia, who was born in 2016, and Edie, born in 2017.
“It’s been good so far, a bit hectic at times but for the most part it has been good. It has been nice to be at home for the last few weeks,” Murray said.
“Before our first daughter was born I wanted a boy and was convinced it was going to be a boy first time round and then we had two girls.
“I would have been more than happy with another girl as well, but it is nice and the kids have been excited to have a brother.”
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says he has “no doubt” midfielder Paul Pogba will stay at the club this summer.
The France World Cup winner missed United’s final pre-season game, a penalty-shootout win over AC Milan in the International Champions Cup.
But Solskjaer said Pogba, who did not travel to Cardiff for the match, was not risked due to a back strain.
“I wasn’t expecting him [to travel],” he said.
“I spoke to him after training and he didn’t feel right. It’s not an injury, it’s just some pain. I wasn’t going to risk anything.”
Reports claimed Pogba failed to make the trip to Cardiff in an attempt to force a move to Real Madrid.
Solskjaer also confirmed the £80m signing of Leicester centre-back Harry Maguire is set to be announced “very soon”.
Penalties win in final pre-season game
In addition to Pogba, Romelu Lukaku was also missing as United drew 2-2 at the Principality Stadium on Saturday.
Lukaku’s absence throughout pre-season has also been attributed to injury, but the Belgium striker’s future has been the subject of speculation all summer, with Inter Milan and Juventus reportedly interested.
United led through Marcus Rashford, before former Liverpool midfielder Suso and Samu Castillejo put Milan in front.
Jesse Lingard levelled up to take the game to spot-kicks.
And Welshman Daniel James scored the winning penalty in the Principality Stadium.
Lukaku continues to be linked with a move away from Old Trafford.
United start their Premier League campaign at home against Chelsea on Sunday, 11 August.
Victory for United against Milan means they have won all six of their pre-season matches, albeit with this one requiring a penalty shootout, which finished 5-4.
Daniel Maldini, the 17-year-old son of Italy and Milan legend Paolo, missed the only spot-kick.
The result means Portuguese side Benfica win the 2019 ICC competition, with United having needed to win by three goals or more to claim the trophy.
Manchester United forward Anthony Martial will return to training this week, raising hopes he could be fit to face rivals Liverpool on Sunday.
Martial has missed eight games with a hamstring injury after scoring twice in the opening three games of the season.
Providing the 23-year-old France international suffers no reaction, he will come into contention to face Jurgen Klopp’s league leaders.
Liverpool go to Old Trafford having won their opening eight league games.
United are just two points above the relegation zone, have only won two league games this season and have not scored more than once in any game since the 4-0 win against Chelsea on 11 August.