Andy Murray’s announcement that he is to retire rocked the Australian Open back on its heels. Once he was the fittest man on the tour but now the Scot feels “helpless” on court, hobbled by a chronic hip injury that no amount of treatment and rehab will cure.
The point was proved on Thursday afternoon when Murray, the former world No 1, played a practice match with Novak Djokovic, the current No 1, and managed to hold his serve just once as he lost 6-1, 4-1. This is the same Djokovic that Murray had fought with in four Australian Open finals. And now he could not lay a glove on the man.
Murray had come to the conclusion back in December that he could not continue in his current physical state but that thrashing by his oldest rival just reinforced the decision. Wimbledon would be Murray’s ideal finale but his retirement could well come much sooner than that. “It has nothing to do with the result of the practice; it’s the feeling that I had during the practice,” he said. “You just kind of feel like helpless on the court and it sucks.
“I’ve played I don’t know how many hours of tennis against him here over the years, I haven’t won the matches but most of them have been really tough, physical matches. And although I didn’t win, the competitiveness was always there and on Thursday there was none of that and there was no feeling of rivalry. And although it was practice, I didn’t have that. I was just not happy with the way I felt on court.”
After an emotional and tearful press conference in which Murray admitted that he could not even put his socks on without being in pain, so badly is his hip damaged, the rest of the field was left to digest the news.
Jo Konta, Britain’s No 1, was stunned by Murray’s announcement. She believes that it is not just Britain and British tennis that will miss Murray when he finally retires, but the sport as a whole.
“What has come through is I think first foremost the way he has competed throughout his whole career,” she said. “That’s something which is very unique to him and we will probably be waiting decades for another person to be like that. For me one of the biggest things that he portrayed is when he went through that stage at the beginning of his career when he was getting injured a lot and wasn’t as physically strong, he went through this phase of change of becoming like a beast of himself. I feel like he really maximised everything that he has and left no stone unturned to bring the best out of himself and not many athletes and people can say that they did that in their career and profession: they maximised and gave everything they had. That’s something as an athlete to look up to; it makes me quite emotional because that’s a beautiful thing.”
Murray’s 14-year career has seen him grow from a spindly teenager into a serial champion and, two years ago, into the very best player on the planet. But it is his role as a statesman of the game that has won him admirers around the globe.
Always willing to give his opinion, he has shown himself to be a champion of women’s rights, not least by appointing Amelie Mauresmo as his coach in 2014. It came as no surprise, then, that Billie Jean King tweeted that Murray was “a champion on and off the court…Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations”.
Konta spoke for her peers in the locker room when she said that the women’s tour would miss Murray more than most. “There have been so many examples of when he has stood up for us not just for women’s tennis but women in general,” she said. “I think he’s grown up with a really strong female role model with his mum and I know his wife is also a strong character so he is surrounded by great strong women.
“He has put that through in the way he has voiced his opinions and the way he has tackled some questions and issues that have arisen and I think everybody has always been very appreciative of him and how he has stood up for the women’s side of the game.”