Once his tears have dried and the hundreds of tributes have been pasted into the scrapbook, life will begin again for Andy Murray. He may wish it were different, but that is the reality of the situation now that he has announced his retirement. So what next for Britain’s finest ever sportsman?
Those closest to him, those who have been with him every step of the way, are keeping close counsel. As for the man himself, he has no idea where life will take him next.
If Murray’s announcement on Friday came as a shock to the rest of the tennis community, it seems as nothing compared to the shock to Murray’s system.
It is one thing to decide privately that the end of the road is closer than he thought; it is quite another to tell the world that his time is up.
Now it is real. Now everyone knows that Murray has been forced to give up the thing he loves most in the world (other than his family, of course).
“It’s interesting,” he said quietly, “because once I’d started thinking about stopping, that that was a possibility, that I wasn’t going to be playing much longer, all of the things that I thought that I would quite like to do, I have zero interest in doing right now. I have no motivation to do anything else just now. This is what I want to do.
“Thinking about what I do when I finish playing and rushing into decisions with that – from speaking to psychologists and stuff – is kind of the worst thing I should be doing. It’s going to take time for me to deal with it and I need a bit of time to get over it and then know what my next steps are going to be or what I do after tennis.”
Murray, then, is preparing himself for a rough few months. To give up his sport should help stop the physical pain he feels in his injured right hip but he knows full well that he will end up replacing that with the emotional anguish of losing his lifelong love – he has been obsessed with tennis since he was three years old.
“I know that will be difficult [to stop],” he said. “I love tennis. I love playing the game. Because I’ve been in pain for a long time, it’s not as simple as: ‘My pain started at the French Open, I’ve never had hip pain before’. It wasn’t just the love of playing. I’d been in pain for quite a long time beforehand but was managing it and was able to play so I was thinking ‘If my hip gets better and improves I’ll be able to go back to competing’. Which is something I had also discussed with many experts and specialists and stuff.
“But it didn’t get to that point, and because of when I had the surgery and what I was told about the surgery and the timings of when things can be beneficial, I was like ‘well, I need to wait it out a bit and see’. Obviously it didn’t help enough.”
Throughout his career, Murray has lived a double life: there is his somewhat grumpy on-court persona (then again, how many people smile and laugh their way through a tough day at work?) and then there is the intelligent, articulate, funny, sensitive and caring off-court persona, the man who is not afraid to stand up for what he believes in, who is not ashamed to show his feelings in public, who loves a laugh and takes dry, sarcastic humour to a new level. That is the man his peers in the locker room will miss and that is the man for whom they are all heart sorry as his career comes to an end.
Rafael Nadal has known Murray for half a lifetime – it was playing against and talking to Nadal that prompted Murray to pack his bags and go to Barcelona to learn his trade as a 15-year-old. As professionals, they have played 24 times over the past 12 years and their rivalry goes back to their junior days, as does their mutual respect and admiration.
“We shared competitions under-13, under-14,” Nadal recalled with a smile. “Yeah, we know each other since a very long, long time ago. When he was a kid, he was little bit a bad boy. Then, of course, you have an evolution of your personality. And yes, at the end of the day you appreciate a lot your rivals because you shared lot of important moments in our lives. I always had good relationship with him. We shared moments in my academy. We shared moments playing some exhibitions all around the world. We shared a court in the most important stadiums in the world, competing for the most important things. That’s impossible to forget.
“He has a good fighting spirit. He has been a hard worker. Is not nice to finish like this because is great that you finish when you want to finish, not because of another thing.
“Overall, when he puts everything on the balance, will be that the positive things of the balance are much heavier than the negative things, even if in the end is not probably the way that he dreamed about. But you can’t manage that.
“But when you are going on court every day without the clear goal because you cannot move well, you have pain, then is a moment to take a decision. Probably he is fighting to keep going since a long time. If he doesn’t feel that the thing can go better, probably he does the right thing for his mental health.
“He will be a very important loss for us, for the world of tennis, for the tour, for the fans, even for the rivals. He has been part of a great rivalry between the best players for a long time, and a great competitor.”
The loss will be felt most of all in Britain where tennis has begun and ended with the Murray family for more than a decade. Murray’s mother, Judy, has been working tirelessly for years to ensure that her sons’ achievements leave a lasting legacy in Scotland but as Andy’s career comes to a close, the opportunity to make the most of his success, to build on that for the future, could well be lost.
Judy has said many times in the past that the failure to use Andy and Jamie’s public profile has been “incredibly disappointing”. What she thinks about no new courts being built in Scotland between 2006 and 2016 – and 2016 was when three Scots in Andy, Jamie and Gordon Reid ended the year ranked No.1 in the world – is probably best left unsaid in a family newspaper.
Even the fact that the LTA and Sport Scotland announced a £15 million investment to build courts over a ten-year period starting in 2016 seems too little too late – it equates to 30 new courts over the next decade. As for the Murray Tennis Centre in Dunblane, Judy has been working on getting that up and running for five years, since the days when her younger son was winning grand slam singles titles and Olympic gold medals. Now his career is almost over, not a brick has been laid. As a result, the chances of Scotland or any of the rest of the UK finding another Andy grow ever slimmer.
But those are battles for another day; tomorrow belongs to Andy. He will play potentially his last match against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Melbourne Arena (the third show court) some time around 7am, UK time. It is a match he could win but he knows, too, that he and his ailing hip may not be able to cope. And if he loses, he may make the decision to stop then and there rather than try to carry on until Wimbledon.
“If it is my last match I want to try to enjoy it,” he said, “enjoy the whole experience which is maybe something during my career that I’ve not done because I’ve always been like focused on tactics and winning and finding a way and that’s the most important thing. Whereas coming in here, it feels very different for me.”
Different for him and different for everyone in Melbourne Park as they contemplate waving goodbye to one of the leading lights of the golden generation of tennis and one of the truly good guys on the tour.