The Australian Open could be Andy Murray’s last tournament, according to Murray himself, during an emotional and tear-jerking press conference which found him unable to speak at times.
Murray had to leave the room for a couple of minutes to compose himself after being asked the first question – “How are you feeling?” – and answering “Not great.”
The true answer, it soon emerged, was that he realises that his body has reached the end of the road. He did not announce his immediate retirement – not quite.
But he did say that he may not be able to play again after this coming week, and that the ideal scenario – which would have been a farewell outing at Wimbledon in the summer – was probably too ambitious to be realistic.
“In the middle to end of December,” Murray said, “during the training block, I spoke to my team, and I said ‘I can’t keep doing this and I need to have an end point.’ Because it was just playing with no idea of when the pain was going to stop. I said to my team ‘Maybe I can get through this until Wimbledon’ – that was where I would like to stop playing. But I am also not certain I am able to do that.”
Asked if he planned to compete in Melbourne – where his first-round match against Roberto Bautista Agut is scheduled for Monday – Murray replied that he was. “I can still play to a level. Not a level that I am happy playing at. Because the pain is too much really.”
The next question enquired whether this would be his final tournament. “Yeah, I think there’s a chance of that for sure. Because I am not sure I am going to be able to play through the pain for the next four or five months.
"I have considered having another operation which is a little bit more severe than what I had before. If I have my hip resurfaced, it will allow me to have a better quality of life and be out of pain, and that’s something I am seriously considering right now. Some athletes have had that and returned to competing, but there’s no guarantees. The reason for having an operation like that is not to play professional sport, it’s to have a better quality of life.
“You guys see me running around a tennis court and walking between points and it doesn’t look good and it doesn’t look comfortable. There are also little things day to day which are a struggle and it would be nice to do without pain, putting shoes on, putting socks on, things like that.
“If I was to have an operation like that and rehab properly I would give my hip a chance to be as good as it can be, but I know it’s not an easy thing to come back to and play professional sport to a high level. Bob Bryan [who is part of the world’s most successful doubles partnership] had this operation before Wimbledon and is obviously back playing. I have had a lot of communication with him. But there is a difference between singles and doubles and the amount of movement.”
Asked whether he had seen his surgeon, Dr John O’Donnell, while in Melbourne, Murray replied: “I saw him yesterday actually. I have a severely damaged right hip. Having the operation last year [an arthroscopic clean-up] was to give it the best possible chance of being better. I have been playing with hip pain for years, it wasn’t like it just started after the French Open against Stan [Wawrinka]. I just didn’t recover from that match and it pushed me over the edge.
“The operation didn’t help with the pain at all. It’s what I have been struggling with. The pain is the driving factor. I can play with [physical] limitations, but the pain is not allowing me to.
“I’ve talked a lot, way too much about my hip for 18 months. It’s a daily thing. It isn’t just people I work with. It’s everyone I bump into, that’s all I talk about. It’s pretty draining. I’ve spoken – not loads but a number of times – to psychologists about it. But nothing helps because you’re in lots and lots of pain. You can’t do what it is that you love – playing. It’s not enjoyable any more. I’ve tried to deal with it and talked about it, but none of that makes my hip feel any better. If it did it would feel brilliant right now. But it doesn’t.”
Tennis world hails Murray
Murray has been a mentor to a number of British players, including Kyle Edmund, who overtook him as the country's number one player after reaching the semi-finals in Melbourne 12 months ago.
Edmund said: "For me he's been my biggest role model out of any tennis player. He's Britain's greatest tennis player ever and you could say maybe Britain's best sportsman ever.
"To be able to have had the experiences that I've had with him and memories in terms of training with him and getting to know him personally and seeing what he's done on the court and achieved, he's definitely helped my career.
"It's obviously not nice to read that he's going to be retiring at some point but, at the same time, it's a nice way to reflect his career, knowing that he's going to be done, and seeing what he's achieved. It's been amazing."
Andy, just watched your conference. Please don’t stop trying. Keep fighting. I can imagine your pain and sadness. I hope you can overcome this. You deserve to retire on your own terms, whenever that happens. We love you @andy_murray and we want to see you happy and doing well. ��
— Juan M. del Potro (@delpotrojuan) January 11, 2019
Just thinking out loud here. He deserves his moment to say goodbye at Wimbledon. He’s too important to Great Britain and Wimbledon history to not have it..... Would be a pretty cool moment to play doubles w his bro at Wimby if he can’t play singles https://t.co/m7caeL2shX
— andyroddick (@andyroddick) January 11, 2019
Tennis will come to an end for us all but the friendships will last a lifetime. What you’ve done for the sport will live on forever. I’m hoping for a strong and healthy finish for you, my friend! @andy_murraypic.twitter.com/Bcs0cdllJp
— Grigor Dimitrov (@GrigorDimitrov) January 11, 2019
Johanna Konta echoed Edmund's thoughts and spoke about Murray's support for the women's game and equality.
She said: "There have been so many examples of when he has stood up for us - not just for women's tennis but women in general.
"He has also been blessed with two daughters and I think he's grown up with a really strong female role model with his mum and now 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.
"It will definitely be quite sad and I think also if he is unable to retire on his own terms and is forced to retire, I think that's something which no athlete wants to be put through, so everyone will have a lot of compassion and a lot of sadness for him.
"Honestly I can't imagine the sport without him. He has just been there all the time."
Billie Jean King also hailed Murray's contribution to equality in the game.
.@andy_murray You are a champion on and off the court. So sorry you cannot retire on your own terms, but remember to look to the future. Your greatest impact on the world may be yet to come. Your voice for equality will inspire future generations. Much love to you & your family. https://t.co/AQUOP3LGec
— Billie Jean King (@BillieJeanKing) January 11, 2019
British tennis fans have had plenty to cheer at the Australian Open over the past decade, but this could be the year the bubble bursts. It seems almost inappropriate to discuss mundane matters after Murray’s emotional press conference, but we should record that Kyle Edmund – last year’s semi-finalist – has landed a difficult first-round draw against the runner-up from Doha last week: Tomas Berdych. The other British No. 1, Johanna Konta, will play a locally based opponent in Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic.