No one looks forward to the 24-hour flight from Australia to the UK but, for Andy Murray, the journey will at least give him time to think. And he has plenty to ponder in the coming days.
Before the Australian Open started, he thought that he would like to end his playing days at Wimbledon. Forced into retirement due to his damaged right hip, he wanted to limp on until the summer and then wave goodbye to his professional career in SW19. But then he played Roberto Bautista Agut in Melbourne and, conjuring up one of those Murray moments, he fought and he battled and he thrilled a packed house for five sets until the Spaniard finally got the better of him. It was a night that he will never forget.
Now he has more to think about. Does he want Monday’s match to be his grand farewell to tennis before he heads into retirement? Does he want to risk waiting until Wimbledon and then, possibly, losing in a low-key match that cannot replicate the drama and emotion of Monday’s epic? Or does he want to opt for a hip resurfacing procedure now and maybe, just maybe, give his career one last roll of the dice?
“Not having [the operation] done would give me a better chance of playing Wimbledon,” Murray said. “I would definitely play Wimbledon if I didn’t have the operation because my hip isn’t going to be much worse off after tonight. My hip is screwed anyway, so it’s not like tonight’s match is going to make it any worse than what it is.
“So, if I took a few months off and didn’t play, I could definitely get myself on the court to play Wimbledon one last time. I could be competitive. I was competitive tonight against a top player with very little practice and matches. Grass is a better surface for me. Not having surgery gives me the best chance of playing at Wimbledon. The first option [having surgery] makes my life a lot more comfortable and enjoyable but potentially means I never play again and also miss Wimbledon. So that’s what I need to decide.”
But Murray revealed a little more of his thought processes when he spoke to the BBC.
“I love playing,” he said simply. “I want to keep playing tennis but I can’t do that with the hip I have just now. So the only option, if I want to do that, is to have the surgery but I know that there’s a strong possibility that I won’t be able to come back and play after that. But it’s my only option if I want to try to play again for longer than one event, like at Wimbledon. That’s a decision I have to make and I’ll chat with my family and my team about that.”
After sitting anxiously at the courtside for four hours on Monday, Murray’s mother, Judy, pictured, has a tiny inkling that her son may yet surprise us all.
“You just get the sense that there’s something else in him, that he’s not quite ready to quit yet, so we’ll see,” she said. “I think from the second game [on Monday] when he turned round and he went ‘let’s go’, I thought ‘you’re going to be OK because you’re going to compete and you’re going to get stuck in’ (which he always does; that should never be in question) but I think with everything he’s gone through, I didn’t know what to expect.
“I’m just so proud of what he did out there given the discomfort that he’s in. I was just blown away by what he did and yet I shouldn’t have been blown away because that’s just who he is: he’s a born competitor, he’s an incredible athlete and he loves what he does. And he showed all of that last night. What’s not to love about that?”
As is Murray’s way, he will search out opinions, gather specialist information and make an informed decision about his future. But he has made no secret of the fact that retiring is not what he wants to do. In a perfect world, he would play on for years, compete for years, play the sport he loves for years. And if he could find a solution to his hip problems, there might be the chance, however slim, that he could play on. The odds are against it, but that has never stopped Murray in the past.
All Judy knows is that her son has been in pain for almost two years and he needs to find a solution just to live a normal life.
“Obviously I have no idea what he’ll ultimately decide,” she said. “He has to speak to the doctors about the possible operations and the potential outcomes of the operations, but, you know, whatever he decides, he is quite likely to be the one who breaks the mould of getting the absolute max out of whatever. Because the mind is a powerful thing and [the match] last night was mind over body, for sure.
“I think it’s very hard as a parent to watch your kids struggling with anything, especially if they are physically hurting. Also to know that there isn’t really anything you can do to help them, that’s really hard.”
By the time he begins his final descent into Heathrow, Murray may be a little closer to making his decision. If he wants to play again, he needs to have the hip resurfacing operation.
If it is not a success, his career is over. But if it is a success, who knows what he may yet be able to do. And Judy would not be surprised if it was not a good deal more than any of us could imagine.