“If this was the last match it was an amazing way to end,” Murray said in his on-court interview after losing 6-4 6-4 6-7 6-7 6-2 to Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain. “I gave literally everything I had. It wasn’t enough tonight, so congratulations to Roberto and his team. I don’t really have anything else to say. Thanks to everyone. My team, my family, everyone who helped me down the years. Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again I need to have a big operation which there’s no guarantee I’ll come back from but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Requiring immediate hip resurfacing surgery, Murray had admitted prior to that match that his career was in real, real jeopardy. So much so that the organisers of the Australian Open – a five-times runner-up – had organised a farewell montage for after his match against Bautista Agut on the stadium screen. “You’ve done Scotland proud, you’ve done Britain proud, you’re a sir – who can say that?” Roger Federer eulogised. “Thank you always for leaving your heart and every last drop of energy on the court,” remarked Novak Djokovic, his conqueror four times in the final. “Judy raised such a fine young gentleman,” Sloane Stephens said. They spoke as if we would never see the Scot on court again.
Saturday, January 21, 2023. Andy Murray will walk on to Margaret Court Arena to play the third round of the Australian Open, against Bautista Agut, for a place in the last 16. The Spaniard is the last remaining seed in their quarter of the draw.
Murray, now 35 and with a metal hip, shouldn’t really be here. He is defying the laws of sport, mentally and physically. First, he ousted big-serving, big-hitting Roman Matteo Berrettini in five sets in round one. The Italian 13th seed defeated him three times in 2022. Then Murray played home favourite Thanasi Kokkinakis, who for two-and-a-half sets took a wrecking ball to Murray’s defences. On the cusp of defeat, Dunblane’s finest dug in, found a way, demanded that the Australian had to maintain his level to win. He could not. At just past 4.05am on Friday in Melbourne, Murray prevailed the final set 7-5 in the longest match of his career. Some say it is the greatest win of his career.
There is no rest for the three-time Slam champion. Bautista Agut, only a year younger than Murray, lies in wait and is the warm favourite to progress given he has had significantly more rest and less time on court than Murray. The man from Spain also defeated him twice last year, including a 6-0 6-1 demolition in Doha. But remember Murray’s record against Berrettini …
If Murray can maintain his energy levels, this is a winnable match. Bautista Agut was a finalist in Adelaide six days ago, so he has had a full two weeks in action. The world No 66’s top level is better than the world No 25, even if the rankings suggest otherwise. And write off Murray at your peril, after what happened against Kokkinakis. Victory here, in a match that starts not before 8am on Saturday, and the semi-finals become a realistic prospect. Dare to believe? You know Murray certainly will.