There will, unfortunately, be no fairytale comeback for Andy Murray.
Hindered by a hip injury, the three-time grand slam winner announced Friday on the eve of the Australian Open that he will retire at Wimbledon in July – if he can make it that far.
Indeed, the 31-year-old Scot admitted the year’s first major could be his last event, such is the state of his surgically repaired right hip.
He left his press conference in tears, a day after the Telegraph reported Murray looked like a shadow of his old self when he was soundly beaten by his childhood pal and the current world No. 1, Novak Djokovic, in a practice session at Melbourne Park.
“I can play with limitations but having the limitations and the pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training,” Murray, down to 230th in the rankings, said. “Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I am not certain I am able to do that.
“Not feeling good. Been struggling for a long time. I’m not sure I can play through the pain for another four or five months.
“Pretty much done everything that I could to try and get my hip feeling better and it hasn’t helped loads. I think there is a chance the Australian Open is my last tournament.”
Murray deserves the sendoff at Wimbledon, likely the site of his greatest triumphs.
In 2013 he became the first British man since Fred Perry 77 years earlier to win the fabled grass-court major – defeating Djokovic in the final – before collecting a second title in 2016.
“As Andy looks to wind down over the next several months, the world of tennis will lose a great competitor but he will leave a measure of true grit that we can all learn from,” Ivan Lendl, Murray’s coach during his greatest triumphs, told CNN.
Murray’s fortnights at Wimbledon perennially captivated a British public who normally, in sporting terms, focus on football. As the lone prominent men’s player from Britain for most of his career, the pressure he dealt with at the All England Club was both intense and immense.
“He deserves his moment to say goodbye at Wimbledon. He’s too important to Great Britain and Wimbledon history to not have it,” former world No. 1 Andy Roddick said on Twitter. “Would be a pretty cool moment to play doubles (with) his bro at Wimby if he can’t play singles,” added the American, referring to Murray’s older brother, doubles specialist Jamie.
But Murray enjoyed success elsewhere, too, weaving the magic of his varied repertoire.
Claiming Olympic gold in 2012 at Wimbledon freed Murray, paving the way for his maiden grand slam success at the US Open a month later – the Serb again on the other side of the net – after losing all four of his previous finals. Lendl, the eight-time grand slam winner, proved key in bringing out the best in the Dunblane native.
“He has always left it all out on the court and I will look back with great feelings about the years we worked together which were a lot of fun, filled with excitement,” said Lendl, who endured his own health woes nearing the end of his career. “I am honored to have been part of his team and able to help him achieve as many of his goals as possible.”
When he stood atop the podium again in Rio in 2016, Murray became the first man to land back-to-back Olympic tennis singles golds.
That 2016 campaign proved to be Murray’s last stand at the top of the game. And what a statement it was. He finished the season at No. 1 for the first and lone time of his career.
Considering he competes in the same era as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Djokovic – three of tennis’ finest ever players who have won a combined 51 majors – it was another phenomenal accomplishment.
On the eve of 2017, Murray duly received a knighthood for his tennis achievements and charity work.
“Absolute legend,” said Roddick. “Short list of best tacticians in history. Unreal results in a brutal era …nothing but respect here. I hope he can finish strong and healthy.”
That is the hope, but Murray’s fitness suggests otherwise.
His physical style of play had taken a toll over the years but none more so than in the past two. After a five-set defeat to Sam Querrey at Wimbledon in 2017 when Murray visibly struggled with his movement, he shut down his season.
Then he underwent hip surgery last January in Australia, not returning until June and skipping Wimbledon altogether. One need only ask Lleyton Hewitt, a former No. 1, just how damaging hip injuries can be.
Murray showed promising glimpses in Washington in the buildup to the US Open and when taking the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco to five sets in New York.
However, he began 2018 by suffering a straight-set defeat to Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in the second round at the Brisbane International following a spell in Philadelphia trying to make the hip better.
His first-round outing against Roberto Bautista Agut – champion in Doha last week when the Spaniard upended Djokovic en route – could be the last time tennis sees Murray on court.
“When you search for examples of “emptied the bucket to be as good as they could be” there should be a picture of Andy Murray sitting under that quote,” one of Hewitt’s ex coaches, Darren Cahill, said on Twitter. “Remarkable discipline for training, competition, sacrifice, perfection, a little crazy, but a legend of a bloke. Bravo Andy.”