January 14, 2019
Andy Murray was full of surprises. Right to the last. But is this the end? Maybe not, after all.
First, Murray shocked us by taking Roberto Bautista Agut to five sets.
By doing so, given his hip injury, Murray had achieved what we all thought was impossible.
His opponent had just beaten the great Novak Djokovic in Doha. Andy struggled so much as to compete with Novak in a practice match.
But after four hours, only the crazy prospect of victory itself seemed to do for Andy, as he might have enjoyed three break points to go 2-0 up in the decider.
Instead he tightened. Back hands drifted, forehands were snatched at, and the killer eyes of Bautista Agut saw their chance.
But the biggest twist came after this 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-2 victory for the younger man.
Murray refused to confirm his retirement. He openly contemplated another return, after an even bigger operation.
It was strange, because all the farewells were suddenly thrown into confusion.
Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak and many more had recorded tributes to Murray and his career.
Federer’s straight sets victory over Denis Istomin was reduced to a sideshow. Roger, a bit-part player? How often does that happen?
The Melbourne crowd had given Andy a terrific standing ovation even before defeat finally came.
But here he was, the man of the moment, refusing to say goodbye.
Murray said: ‘Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again I’ll need to have a big operation, which there are no guarantees I’ll come back from anyway, but I’ll give it a go.’
This was in marked contrast to the tears of recognition in the pre-match press conference. Acknowledgement that this was probably the end.
Everyone had decided this was indeed the end. Everyone except, perhaps, Murray himself.
Federer’s recorded message had been typically generous and conclusive.
He told Andy via video: ‘Amazing career. Congratulations Andy, you did Scotland proud, Britain proud, you got to be a Sir through tennis – how many people can say that?’
All the stars chipped in, prompting Federer to observe that the respect Andy had earned in the locker room was one of his most important achievements.
Murray replied: ‘l was fortunate – and unlucky – to compete with guys like Roger, Novak and Rafa. The respect of your peers is the most important thing.’
You can understand Murray’s reluctance to close the door on his career. But this was the perfect way to bow out.
Maybe not the perfect time or place. But the perfect way. Bringing the crowd to its feet time and again. Smashing through the pain barrier with adrenalin and sheer fighting spirit.
Andy admitted: ‘The atmosphere was incredible. Thank you so, so much to everyone who came out tonight. Look, I’ve loved playing here over the years.
‘If this was my last match, what an amazing night, to give everything I had. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough.’
Sure, the drama of the night left us all wanting more. And you are a long time retired.
But does Andy need to put himself through more pain? Should we harbour hope – perhaps false hope – that Murray can be great again?
We can dream. But if this really was the end, Murray did it in style.
He has a happy knack for that – achieved through ridiculously hard work and a spirit that began to burn in Dunblane and soon shone all over the world.
Never brighter than in Melbourne, 2019.