Murray Downed In Five-Set Epic As End Draws Closer
January 14, 2019
Perhaps the only person not crying on Hisense Arena was Andy Murray himself.
After an epic five-set match with Roberto Bautista Agut, he was still focused, still in the zone – and despite the Australian Open’s best efforts to coax a tear or two from him with a beautiful montage video, with tributes from friends and colleagues including Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Caroline Wozniacki and Karolina Pliskova, he gave a lovely concession speech without breaking down.
He hadn’t managed that a week before, of course. He had had to leave the press conference room in order to gather himself prior to announcing his intention to retire. The hip injury that has plagued him for so long has proved an insoluble problem; and the former world number one knew that repeated surgeries, the best answer medical science could provide, might still not be enough. Choosing an endpoint to his career, and knowing that it was in sight, was the best thing for him.
If anyone was expecting an emotional, kittenish Murray on court on the first day of main draw action in Melbourne, though, they were sorely wrong. This was a wounded lion. This was the Murray who made tennis fans love him – a fighter, a tactician, a perfectionist. As he cursed himself and his failing body, he simultaneously drew the last drops of adrenaline from the very ends of his toes, and clawed his way back from a two-set deficit, pushing himself through two gruelling tie-breakers with sheer force of will.
His mother Judy was in the stands, cheering on every point, yet smiling in a way not often seen during matches of the past; she knew better than anyone what this was costing her younger son, and the look on her face was of pride. Her older son sat next to her – an unusual sight, that, as the Murray brothers don’t often choose to watch each other’s matches from the stands as they get too nervous. Jamie’s anxiety for his little brother was written all over his face; it seemed at one juncture as if he could actually physically feel every ounce of pain from that hip in his own body.
The fourth-set tie-break took it out of the three-time Grand Slam champion. He was slower off the mark, slower to react, and Bautista Agut took advantage. Yet Murray was not going to go away quietly. He dragged himself through one last service game, as if to tell the Spaniard, “If you want this, you must serve it out yourself.” The crowd rose as one to applaud Murray’s magnificent effort as Bautista Agut prepared to serve for the match; he raised his racket to acknowledge their ovation before umpire Eva Asderaki-Moore called for calm.
Bautista Agut did what he needed to do, holding on for a well-deserved victory; and his first words to the on-court interviewer were not of his own performance, but of Murray’s; and not just Murray’s that day, but Murray’s career. He thanked him for what he had done for the sport, and (very graciously) thanked the crowd for coming to watch the match – extremely sporting bearing in mind how few of them had been cheering him on for the previous four hours.
Then it was Murray’s turn with the microphone. Perhaps making his way through the ultimate test, a five-set marathon, had reminded him just what he will be missing in retirement; perhaps he had also proved something to himself, because he seemed well satisfied, even as he shifted uncomfortably on that painful leg. He suggested that he might see the crowd again, but surely did not mean that he could return next year; some kind of operation and rehab for the next six months then an official farewell at Wimbledon must be more likely.
Murray watched the video montage of tributes with interest if not emotion, and observed that the respect of his peers was the greatest honour he could have hoped for in his career. He must also know that he will take with him the respect and love of tennis fans across the world, and his British followers will always have had the privilege of seeing one of the greats achieve greatness.
Goodbye, Andy. And thank you for everything.
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Author: Carrie Dunn
Carrie writes for leading newspapers and media outlets including the Times, the Guardian, the New Statesman and Eurosport. She has covered events from the Ashes to the Olympics, and her most recent book The Roar of the Lionesses chronicles women's football in England following the national team's bronze medal at the 2015 Women's World Cup.