Murray's story deserves to end with dignity
The rawness of Andy Murray, laid bare in Centre Court tears with Sue Barker or in his savage mid-match chuntering about all the injustices of the universe, has shown itself once more.
His latest Instagram screed, fleshing out the effects of a stubborn hip injury with words such as "demoralising", "hurting inside", and even including a picture of himself as a little boy, read less like a routine medical update than a cry for help. As a psychiatrist once said of Basil Fawlty: "There's enough material here for an entire conference."
This is no longer a fork in the road for Murray but potentially the end of the line. Hip trouble for tennis players is not just a problem that vanishes with scrupulous convalescence.
Just ask Magnus Norman, Stan Wawrinka's coach, who reached a French Open final in 2000 but retired aged 26 due to repetitive hip strain. Or Gustavo Kuerten, Norman's conqueror in Paris, who like Murray, won three major titles, only to submit to hip surgery and discover that he was never the same player again.
balance It is with these precedents in mind that Murray is wise to be wary of the surgeon's knife. Having already put his career in the balance via this route, with a back operation in 2013, he has consistently regarded an invasive procedure as the response of last resort.
Quite apart from the short-term distress, there is longer-term uncertainty, with few guarantees that he could again reach the level to which he has become accustomed.
He acknowledges as much, conceding this week that he would be happy to spend the rest of his career at "30 in the world". Time will test the credibility of that claim. Rare indeed is the multiple major champion who is content with a professional dotage of losing in the third round, just as airline passengers sipping Krug in first class are loath to go back to slumming it in cattle.
The last occasion Murray was ranked in the thirties was 2006, when his Australian Open adventure extended as far as a straight-sets first-round defeat by Juan Ignacio Chela. Now that he has played five finals in Melbourne, this is not the kind of territory to which he should wish to return.
Let us consider the great unmentionable. What if Murray retired tomorrow? The body of work - two Wimbledon triumphs, a US Open victory, two Olympic gold medals, 45 career titles and £45 million in prize money - is far in excess of what anybody imagined this once gangly, truculent stripling might accomplish.
Granted, he might consider himself under par in the slams, as anybody with eight defeats in 11 major finals would. But his is a story that deserves to end with honour, not with several seasons of futile, grinding anonymity.
There is a strength in knowing when your potential has been exhausted. Andy Roddick was 30, the same age as Murray, when he decided to step away. While he never won the prize he coveted most, the Wimbledon title, he achieved cathartic US Open glory in 2003 and understood he had nothing more to give.
Thrashed by Murray in the Queen's semi-finals in 2011, he had jokingly screamed to the Scot: "Keep it social!" Roddick had other talents and interests to indulge, with his wise-guy persona a perfect fit for TV commentary. Murray has the same luxury: when he is not moonlighting as a Scottish hotelier, as owner of Cromlix House in Perthshire, he displays a forensic fascination with tennis that could yet make him a brilliant coach.
He also has a young family to consider, with his second daughter two months old, admitting last year that tennis had turned into a mere distraction from precious private time with wife Kim and first child Sophia.
"Before, in the build-up to a slam final, I would just be thinking about the match," he said. "Now, I'm just looking forward to the next time I see Sophia and Kim."
We should remember that Murray loves nothing better than to be written off.
He took pleasure over Christmas in retweeting the view of one supporter that he had defied the naysayers once and could do so again.
This time, though, it is not just Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic arrayed against him, but age, medical science and a troublesome hip. Nobody reading his plaintive message yesterday could begrudge him if he decided that there was more to life. (© Daily Telegraph, London)