At the end of his first round defeat to Roberto Bautista Agut at the Australian Open, there was a look of resignation on the face of Andy Murray.
He had battled back from two sets down to take the tie into a decider, but a lack of competitive action leads to reduced match fitness, and ultimately that proved telling as the Spaniard had the extra gear to claim that decisive set 6-2.
Various members of the Australian media entered the court to interview an exhausted Murray at the end, and while they sort of tiptoed around they found a way to ask the question we all wanted answering: was this the end?
“If this was my last match, it was an amazing way to end,” he told the expectant crowd. “I gave everything I had – it wasn’t enough tonight. 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’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from anyway, but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Not exactly the most optimistic of post-match interviews, but then again not all that conclusive either.
In an ideal world, Murray would get to bow out on his own terms at Wimbledon in the summer, where the best days of his tennis career have undoubtedly come. He has twice lifted the famous trophy, and it was at SW19 where he claimed the first of his Olympic gold medals too.
“I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for another four or five months. I want to get to Wimbledon and stop, but I’m not certain I can do that,” he has already said.
The Scot will now put his feet up and consider his future, with it being highly unlikely he will play the clay court season in the spring. To then play at Wimbledon, he may need to qualify or hope that he can, by hook or by crook, wangle a wildcard entry.
Great sporting careers deserve happy endings, and it would be brilliant if Andy could take his place at SW19 either in singles competition or in the doubles with his brother, Jamie, or his good mate Nick Kyrgios. How entertaining a pairing would that be!
Sadly, however, this is the time when we have to look back, rather than forwards, and reflect on a career of a truly astonishing sportsman who rarely gets the credit he deserves.
So arise, Sir Andrew.
The Early Years
It won’t come as much surprise, given how tough he is out on the court, to learn that Andy Murray has been through some hard times in his life.
As a youngster he grew up in the Scottish town of Dunblane, which in 1996 made headlines around the world due to the atrocity at the primary school there, when a man opened fire and killed 16 children and a teacher before turning the gun on himself.
Murray and his brother were present at the school at the time, and were forced to take shelter in a classroom as the gunman stalked the corridors. The killer was known to the Murray family, who ran a youth club that many local children attended.
Andy’s parents divorced when he was ten years old, and he was still a teenager when he moved to Spain, on his own, to attend a tennis academy and school in Barcelona.
All of this took place while he was battling bipartite patella, which is a condition where the two bones in the knee fail to fuse together properly. These struggles perhaps help to explain his tenacious, never-say-die attitude out on the court.
At the age of 17, Murray won the junior US Open and was selected in the squad for a Davis Cup tie, but didn’t take his place in the starting line-up. He turned pro aged 18 in 2005….and the rest is history.
Titles and Top 10 Talent (2006-07)
At the age of 19, it was pretty obvious that Murray was going places.
He’d already reached the fourth round at both Wimbledon and the US Open – beating number three seed Andy Roddick at the former, and was the newly minted British number one, taking over the spot from the fading Tim Henman and Greg Rusedski.
Tennis needed a new star on these shores, and while not all were won over by Andy’s seemingly dour and moody demeanour – this has countlessly been dismissed by those who know him best – ‘Murray Mania’, particularly at SW19, was building.
He made history at the tail-end of 2006, ending Roger Federer’s 55-match unbeaten streak on hard courts before claiming the SAP Open; his first ATP Tour title.
In 2007, despite missing much of the season – including Wimbledon – with a wrist injury, Murray broke into the top ten of the world rankings for the first time.
Major Moves (2008-11)
Andy made his first Grand Slam final in 2008 at the US Open, going down in straight sets to an imperious Federer. It was a harsh learning curve for the Scot, but he would be back.
While Roddick would have his revenge on Murray in the semi-final of Wimbledon in 2009, our hero did at least claim his first ranking title on the grass at Queen’s Club; a win that confirmed his aptitude for the surface and got British fans very, very excited about his future at SW19.
Back to back defeats in the Australian Open final in 2010 and ’11 added further fuel to Murray’s fire, as if he needed after reaching three other Grand Slam semi-finals in 2011. Surely it was just a matter of time until he made that major breakthrough?
Olympic Glory & Becoming a Grand Slam Champion (2012)
In reaching the Wimbledon final, most thought that Andy Murray would finally get the major monkey off his back.
But that man Federer had not read the script, and after taking the first set Murray was powerless to stop the assault of the peerless Swiss ace, who went on to lift the trophy to once again reduce the Scot to tears.
Revenge, they say, is a dish best served cold, and Murray dished out a rather tasty dollop on Federer just a month later at the London Olympics. Andy won in the final to clinch the gold medal and confirm himself as a major winner in the making. Happily, he wouldn’t have to wait long.
At the US Open, Murray became the first Brit since Fred Perry in 1935 to win a Grand Slam, defeating his old nemesis Novak Djokovic in the final.
The Wimbledon Title… at Last (2013)
After his customary disappointment in the final of the Australian Open, Murray was able to kick on a focus all of his attention on the tournament that had evaded him for so long: Wimbledon.
Support for the Scot was once again at fever pitch, and with Federer and Rafa Nadal being dumped out of the competition early on optimism was rising.
He battled his way through to the final where he met Djokovic once more. The Serb was the red-hot favourite with the bookmakers, but Murray’s day of destiny had finally arrived and he became the first male British winner of Wimbledon since Perry almost 80 years earlier.
At the end of 2013, Andy decided to have surgery to try and solve his long-standing back problems; a decision that still has ramifications to this day given his chronic hip complaint.
A period in the doldrums, relatively speaking, followed in 2014 as he failed to make a major final for the first time since 2010, and fell out of the world’s top ten. The good times, briefly, were over.
British Davis Cup Victory (2015)
Given the trials and tribulations he had experienced on and off the tennis court, it was no great surprise when Murray battled back to the best of his form in 2015.
A fourth loss in the final of the Australian Open was followed by arguably his best set of performances on clay, reaching the semi-final of the French Open before running out of gas against Djokovic.
He was blitzed by Federer at Wimbledon and Kevin Anderson in the US Open, but glory of a different kind was just around the corner. Murray led Great Britain to success in the Davis Cup, winning both of his singles rubbers and a doubles clash alongside his brother Jamie to land GB’s first victory in the competition in 80 years.
2nd Wimbledon & Olympic Titles & Becoming World Number 1 (2016)
With hindsight, we can reflect on 2016 as being the best year – tennis-wise – of Murray’s life. He set a unwanted record at the start of the year – becoming only the third man of the Open era to lose in five Australian Open finals, before becoming the first Brit since Bunny Austin eight decades earlier to reach a French Open final, where he lost to Djokovic.
But the good times were ahead, as he claimed a second Wimbledon title in front of an enraptured home crowd before winning a second Olympics gold medal in Rio de Janeiro.
He ended the year as world number one, and was given a knighthood for his troubles. Not a bad end to the campaign, by all accounts!
The Beginning of the End (2017-present)
It’s a shame to reflect on these past couple of years of Sir Andy’s career, with a catalogue of chronic injuries ultimately preventing him from playing to the level he once had.
The Scot hasn’t gone beyond the semi-finals of a major since the start of 2017, and his lack of competitive action has caused his world ranking to tumble.
That brings us up to date with a wonderful career of a man who must truly go down as one of Great Britain’s finest ever sportspeople.
Big Four No More?
Elite-level men’s tennis has been represented by four powerhouses for well over a decade: messrs Murray, Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.
All have enjoyed their own personal renaissance: Federer has won three majors since the start of 2017 following a five-year drought, Nadal has won back-to-back French Opens and Djokovic ended all conversations regarding his future in the game by winning Wimbledon and the US Open in the second half of 2018.
But how long can this generation continue? Federer, at 37, is a grandfather in tennis terms, while Nadal and Djokovic are both into their 30s with a raft of injuries between them.
Watching this quartet in full flight remains a huge draw for tennis, and hopefully new stars will emerge to take the place of this unforgettable quartet that changed the face of the sport forever.