The phrase ‘eyeing a comeback’ generally fills me with dread. I don’t know why but I always picture a face pressed against a shop window, staring greedily at an iced bun, a fudge doughnut or one of those unholy confections of chocolate, Maltesers and marshmallow. In this image the sweet treat is the comeback itself, of course. The prize.

And the feeling of dread? A result of the face at the window too often belonging to one of those people who get me swearing and shouting at the telly. The thought of them once more getting their grubby mitts on the metaphorical Rocky Road – once again feeling the sugar-rush of celebrity or power – is too much to bear. We thought we were rid of you: what you doing bothering us again?

It’s a long and growing list. Boris Johnson is always on it. Just last week his biographer had him ‘eyeing a comeback’ if the Tories take a shoeing in May’s English local elections, as seems likely. Donald Trump is a permanent fixture too. He seems to exist in a perpetual state of comeback readiness – even when he’s on the golf course, in the cryo-lab for a tune-up and a spray job, or working hard to stay out of prison, three activities which occupy much of his time these days. Former Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro is a new addition, and I’ll add Liz Truss and her Old Etonian close friend Kwasi Kwarteng. I sometimes think I dreamt the horror show that was their 44-day stint in the cake shop. But I know if I see it in print, I can be sure it was real. It’s good to fix these things in the memory, in case we forget. History tells us that.

Johnson, Trump and Bolsonaro have yet to make their actual political comebacks. They’re still in the ‘eyeing’ stage, and may they stay there until hell freezes over. But it’s probably only a matter of time before one or other of them makes a bid for the limelight again. Before a familiar hand reaches out for another piece of the cake.

Other politicians are past masters at the comeback. The apparently ageless Silvio Berlusconi only ever seems to be one coalition failure away from a return to top level politics. He was Italian Prime Minister for nine years across three stints between 1994 and 2011 and, despite being sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud in 2013, became an MEP and is currently a member of the Italian senate having been elected last year. And not for nothing was former US president Bill Clinton known as the Comeback Kid: he became the first Democrat since Franklin D Roosevelt to be re-elected president, and that in teeth of personal and financial scandal.

In other walks of life, away from politics, comebacks mean different things and bring me varying degrees of alarm. I’ll be worried if flared jeans or leather waistcoats make a comeback, less so if it’s spats or berets that return to sartorial prominence. Likewise I could do without the mooted return of boyband NSYNC, but I was delighted to see Kate Bush return to the charts last year on the back of her Stranger Things success. But hey, that’s just me.

There is one type of comeback I do absolutely adore and that’s the sort demonstrated by Andy Murray in Thursday’s victory over Thanasi Kokkinakis in the second round of the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. Yes, the sporting comeback. It’s the stuff of dreams and the stuff of films, but it’s better than both because it’s real, dramatic and entirely unscripted.

Epic doesn’t begin to describe the match Murray played last week. In case you missed it, here’s how it went: two sets down and looking like he’s toast, Murray fights back to parity and, as the clock ticks towards 4am, finally wins. At five hours and 45 minutes it’s the longest game of his career and the second latest finish in Australian Open history. He makes out he’s a tad dis-chuffed not to have been in his scratcher hours earlier – “It’s not beneficial,” he complains to reporters afterwards. “I don’t think it’s amazing for the fans. It’s not good for the players” – but he well knows that everyone who did stay in the arena into the wee hours witnessed something special and historic.


And what was it that spurred Murray on to victory? Doggedness and guile, certainly. Stamina, obviously, because his opponent was nearly a decade younger than him. What else? An ability to focus and endure, a super-abundance of the carnaptious – a particularly Scottish trait – and a wealth of experience.

Oh, and I bet he saw Kokkinakis’s scary, Paisley-patterned shorts and thought: ‘No way am I going out to a guy wearing those’. In which case, more power to your elbow, Andy. Or your metal hip, if you prefer.

But there was something else too, an asset only the truly great athletes have in their kitbag – an ability to reach for the sublime, grab it, wield it and bend it to their will. It’s how you subvert the norms of Scottish sporting endeavour, sidestep the usual sad outcomes. It’s how you snatch victory from the jaws of defeat rather than the other way round. That’s what makes sporting comebacks so very special, and Murray’s so very memorable. It was even better that mum Judy was in the crowd cheering him on.

How much more of a comeback is on the cards as the tournament progresses? Ahead of Murray’s third round tie against Roberto Bautista Agut, it’s impossible to say. If he’s anything other than knackered when he takes on the Spaniard, I’ll eat my spats/beret/leather waistcoat.

On one hand, it doesn’t matter though. Thursday’s epic turnaround was enough to burnish Murray’s already shiny reputation for unlikely returns. Aged 35, and after an apparently career-ending run of injuries, he has had his fair share of them. You’ll find references to him as the Comeback Kid stretching back to at least 2015. And don’t forget that by the time he faced Kokkinakis he had already disposed of hulking Italian Matteo Berrettini, the tournament’s 13th seed, in a game which itself lasted just under five hours. Berrettini, let me remind you, was a 2021 Wimbledon finalist, made the Australian Open semi-finals last year and is Murray’s junior by nine years.

There’s a t-shirt slogan I see around. It says ‘Old Guys Rule’. I never quite know how to take it. Is it a statement of political fact, a nod to the enduring grip of the patriarchy and the fact that power still resides with a socio-economic grouping often described as ‘pale, male and stale’? If so, is it a defence of that? Does Vladimir Putin wear one at weekends? Or is it more playful, an ironic acknowledgement that, say, a 35-year-old Scot with a metal hip who’d rather be in his bed at 4am can still cut the mustard? Is it actually saying old guys don’t rule – but every now again they might surprise you. Every now again they might just stage a comeback.

Or in Andy Murray’s case, another one.