Wednesday 19 June 2019

Gutsy Murray bows out at first hurdle as career end looms

Andy Murray. Photo: Getty Images
Andy Murray. Photo: Getty Images

Simon Briggs

We came for a memorial service. We got a celebration. The capacity crowd on Melbourne Arena relished the sight of Andy Murray in what is likely to be his final professional match, even if he kept his options open in the aftermath of performing one of his patented comebacks.

It was not enough. It was never likely to be enough against Roberto Bautista Agut in the Australian Open first round, the sort of light-footed player he'd have hoped to avoid in the draw.

But this felt like the Andy Murray who bestrode the world stage for well over a decade, even if that stride now has a hitch in it.

If you take even a passing interest in tennis, you will probably remember the moment at Wimbledon in 2005 when a gangling 18-year-old extended the former finalist David Nalbandian to five sets before eventually collapsing in a welter of cramps.

Fourteen years later it ended in pain again but not before Murray had the chance to show off a sort of greatest-hits compilation of his on-court tics.

Murray's best shot was always his backhand up the line and he produced a classic example at 4-4 in the third set to fend off a break point.

This was vintage Murray as was the way he seized the set, firing an angry drive volley into the open court, and then letting out an extended howl.

A different opponent might have been dragged into the emotion of the occasion. But, for Bautista Agut, it was all business.

Murray was still physically restricted and this became more and more obvious as the match wore on.

For the first three sets, the only real evidence lay in a couple of awkward hops after his service action. It was only in the fourth that you began to see him walking like a duck with haemorrhoids.

Now surely the end was on its way.

But the competitor in him would not let the match go, and he levelled at two sets all. It was mind over matter, until the matter finally rebelled.

From 1-0 up in the decider, the next five games tumbled away like playing cards in the wind.

The clock passed four hours on court. Five sets played. The score standing at 6-4, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 5-1 to Bautista Agut.

Tears were flowing from Murray's face as the crowd stood again to applaud him.

He won the game then lost the match a few minutes later. But what a finish this was: a farewell to remind everyone of his fighting qualities and ball-striking talent.

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