Murray: the end. Or is it?
Murray: the end. Or is it?
It was like every epic match Andy Murray has ever played: an emotional rollercoaster of a ride, the desperate refusal to concede defeat and the final twist in the tail.
Yes, Melbourne Park waved a heartfelt and emotional farewell to Scotland’s finest on Monday night; yes, Muzz and his crocked hip turned back the clock (and the medical notes) to pull out a stunning five-setter and, yes, Muzz eventually lost to Roberto Bautista Agut. That was it. He was leaving the Australian Open for the very last time as a player. Or was he?
As only Muzz can, he left us all guessing. Certainly, the packed house in the Melbourne Arena and a good 60 million Poms back home would do anything to eke another couple of seasons out of their man’s career but the X-rays of his right hip, that knackered joint that was causing him so much pain, showed little to be positive about.
Yet as he saluted the crowd, thanked them for the support this year and in the 13 summers before, he threw out a tiny ray of hope. He would do everything he could to be back. It would involve major surgery, there were no guarantees it would work and he might, indeed, be heading off into retirement. But he would try to be back. He would give it all he had. And that is Andy Murray through and through.
There are two main themes in all the tributes that have flooded in since his tearful retirement announcement on Friday: Murray was tireless in his search for perfection – there was nothing he would not do or try, no drill or gym routine he would not punish himself with, in order to be the very best he could be. And the other message that came shining through was that everyone thinks Muzz is a thoroughly decent bloke. None better.
The old saying has it that you never miss your water until the well runs dry. Fortunately for most of us, we came to understand Murray long before his hip gave out. The tears on Centre Court when he lost the Wimbledon final to Roger Federer in 2012 was a lightbulb moment for the Brits: this young man who they may have criticised for him sometime grumpy on-court demeanour and industrial language – he cared.
He cared passionately about the sport, the people who had helped him get to that final and every fan watching him. He had not won and he could not bear the fact that he might have let them down. That was the moment: every woman of a certain age in the stadium wanted to give him a hug and every fella wanted to buy him a pint. He was now their man.
Australia spotted Murray’s worth quite a bit earlier. The scruffy teenager with the wild hair and a bit of attitude sparked interest. The man who got to five Melbourne finals and lost the lot but never stopped try, won admiration. And his tennis drew the crowds.
But for all his many achievements on the court, it is his presence off it that has won him so, so many fans. The fact that most of the women’s locker room are devastated that their champion is retiring speaks volumes for his standing in the tennis community.
An advocate of equality in everything – prize money, women’s rights, gay rights, name your cause – and an eloquent spokesman on most every subject, Murray’s popularity grew and grew. The players not only respected him, they liked him – and in the competitive world of pro sport, it is rare to find an individual about whom no one has a bad word to say.
Looking in from the outside, first impressions of the grim-faced Scot in the heat of battle may not have been encouraging. But for all that his on-going arguments with himself during matches involved language both colourful and anatomically descriptive, his rare run-ins with the court officials were professional and precise. No rude words there.
And then, off the court, he was a completely different man. To see Murray with those ladies of a certain age, was a sight to behold. Polite, gentlemanly, chivalrous even – the Muzz, like his brother, is a frightfully well brought up young man. Then to see him with his team, with his peers – that was another side of him again: laid back, funny (his humour tends towards the dry and sarcastic) and utterly without ego.
That everyone who put finger to keyboard to post their views on his retirement commented more on his character than his tennis was proof positive that Murray meant more to the world than his tennis results – even if his tennis results were the stuff of legend.
Down in the press bunker, Muzz will be sorely missed. The go-to man on any subject, his articulate, considered responses on any topic from tennis to politics via football and Ferraris kept us all busy for a decade and a half. Until his hip became a major issue and his patience was stretched to breaking point, he used to give extra time the British press pack who traipsed around after him from continent to continent.
Win or lose, injured or not, he answered every question politely and fully. Two minutes with Muzz could give you a lead story on a wet weekend in Margate. He was a class act.
But, then again, we may not miss him for long. He may be back. He may not….but he just might. A Murray cliff-hanger? That’s our boy.