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Andy Murray exits Australian Open quarters, proud of comeback from back surgery

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MELBOURNE, Australia - Andy Murray can't think of anyone who has come back from surgery to win a Grand Slam.

Though that was clearly what he was hoping for.

"I was proud of the way I fought," the No. 4-seeded Murray said after losing to Roger Federer in the Australian Open quarterfinals Wednesday. "Hopefully I'll be back playing my best tennis soon."

Murray battled for 3 hours, 20 minutes against Federer, not ever looking like a man who underwent back surgery four months ago — but also not looking like the nimble, speedy, supremely confident player who won Wimbledon last year.

After the match, Murray repeatedly said that he knew he should be happy with his performance, mostly trying to convince himself.

"I've come a long way in four months," he said. "I don't know how many players have come back from surgery and won the first Grand Slam back."

A three-time Australian Open runner-up, Murray said that physically he felt fine during the match.

"My back was OK," he said.

Part of the problem for Murray was Federer, who advanced to his 11th consecutive Australian Open semifinal with the 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 win.

The 32-year-old Swiss star is trying to win his 18th major in Melbourne, where he rekindled his dominance over Murray in Grand Slam matches. Murray has an 11-10 edge over Federer in head-to-head matches and won their last match in five sets in the Australian Open semifinals last year, but Federer has won four of five matches in majors.

Part of the problem for Murray was what he has spoken about repeatedly since the tournament started — the mental challenge of returning from surgery and after having been away from competition and big arenas for so long.

"The first couple times I stepped on the court after surgery that was pretty challenging," Murray said earlier in the tournament. "Mentally it was quite stressful."

Managing his nerves and building his confidence have always been Murray's main opponent, but he conquered his demons and won his first Grand Slam at the 2012 U.S. Open, a career breakthrough that he followed up with a gold medal at the London Olympics.

His victory at Wimbledon in July made Murray the first British man to earn that title since Fred Perry in 1936,

In September, he decided to tend to a back problem and have surgery that was described as minor but, nonetheless, kept him out of competition for the rest of the year.

Murray's first tournament back was at Doha where he lost in the second round on New Year's Day.

On Wednesday, Murray indicated that staying out of competition for so long might have been the wrong strategy.

"This time, I had a long time to prepare, maybe just not enough matches," he said. "There's maybe some things, I would have done a bit differently."

His next challenge will be switching from hard courts to clay for the Davis Cup later this month in San Diego against the United States. "It's not perfect for rehabbing a back surgery," Murray said. "Ideally I'd stay on the same surface."

"I need to use this as, I guess, a stepping stone to getting better — and be happy that I've got through five matches," Murray said.

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