Andy Murray leaves everything on court once again – the gift that also proved his downfall
MELBOURNE ARENA — By the end of what may have been Andy Murray’s final appearance at the Australian Open, he had nothing left to give. For four hours, the hobbled champion went toe-to-toe against the in-form player of the moment, Roberto Bautista Agut. He recovered from two sets and a break down, wrestling control of the exchanges.
The scenes in Melbourne Arena were electric. He offered the world one last fightback. One more exhibition of his greatest quality – his sheer, undying defiance. When he had finally exhausted himself while down 5-1 in the fifth set, the crowd stood and offered their hero a long, standing ovation. He cried.
Throughout the week, the compliments have flown in. As press and fans eulogised in their own way, the colleagues that brushed shoulders with him every day or counted him as friends hailed him with a collective outpouring not last seen since Andre Agassi had his final dance in 2006.
When his biggest rival, Novak Djokovic, was told of the Brit’s impending retirement, the world No 1 froze in shock. Victoria Azarenka branded him a “pioneer” for women’s tennis. Naomi Osaka, who trained with Murray a week ago in Brisbane, said “I lost someone that could be a friend”. Roger Federer called himself Murray’s “biggest fan”. High fives and handshakes have followed Murray around the player lounge.
For his female colleagues, Andy Murray means something different. His appeal to them isn’t merely in his penchant for scolding reporters who erase the achievements of his female counterparts.
From early in his career, he watched their matches, commented on their games and he saw them as his equals. He hired Amélie Mauresmo not as a statement, but because of her merit. The vitriol he heard and the constant need to justify hiring a woman forever changed him.
The most striking aspect of Andy Murray’s public persona is that it has deviated little over the years. The man who was branded a spineless choker with a moody, vulgar personality is now the subject of universal respect and admiration. He remained authentically himself as the world around him changed.
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‘Maybe I'll see you again'
As the match finished and Murray’s first coach as a professional player, Mark Petchey, strutted on to the court and heaped praise on him as a montage played of colleagues wishing him a happy retirement in all its finality.
“I don’t know, maybe I’ll see you again,” responded Murray, “I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again, I’d need to have a big operation which there’s no guarantees I’d be able to come back from again.”
Even as Murray speaks about the possibility of retirement, his future is not nearly so clear. He still dreams of continuing.
His future prospects come down to two options – either he takes off the next five months until the start of the grass season, then strolls on to Centre Court for his final match, or else he undergoes serious hip surgery. The surgery could allow Murray to extend his career – or it could fail all together and leave him incapable of ever returning to Wimbledon as a player again.
Did Murray try too hard?
What is clear is where the blame lies. It’s hard not to equate Murray’s career with effort and workload. It’s one of the core reasons why he was able to close the gap on Federer, Djokovic and Nadal, his transformation from the skinny cramping teenager into the champion he became.
When he returned from major back surgery in 2014, one of the defining moments was his determination to complete the year at the ATP Finals in London. He finished by tearing through six tournaments, grinding out tight, sturdy wins and finally captured the No 1 title.
But for Murray, his reputation as a player who left everything on the court is problematic. He always tried, but perhaps he tried too hard and pushed his body too far, training through pain and giving himself little opportunity to rest.
“For sure I would have been okay if I’d played a little bit less, taken a few more days off, spent a bit more time resting, as well,” he said.
And then he sighed. “Again, like right now, it’s something that frustrates me because of the situation I’m in, and I wish I had done things a little bit differently at times.”
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