US Open champion and former world No. 1 Andy Murray showed his trademark fight and determination to the very end in a first-round Australian Open loss to Roberto Bautista Agut in what may have been the final match of his Hall of Fame career.
Murray announced days before the first Grand Slam of the season that he will likely call an end to his career at Wimbledon this summer -- if his body lets him play that long. And while he battled admirably before a captivated Melbourne crowd on Monday evening, he ultimately fell just short in a thrilling five-set match that few people gave him any chance of winning.
"If today was my last match, look, it was a brilliant way to finish, as well," Murray told reporters after the loss. "I literally gave everything that I had on the court, fought as best as I could, and performed a lot better than what I should have done without the amount I've been able to practice and train. I'd be okay with that being my last match."
The Brit battled back from two sets down, bringing the capacity crowd to its feet multiple times as he tried to perform the ultimate comeback and perhaps prolong his pending retirement a few more days. But the energy he expelled to send the match into a deciding set took its toll on an already depleted body, and he quickly fell behind 5-1.
Fans gave Murray a standing ovation as he went to serve to stay in the match, a gesture Murray tearly acknowledged from behind the baseline by raising his racquet into the air, before the Spaniard closed out the match in the next game to advance to Round 2.
"Obviously that moment, I was emotional at that moment," Murray said of the fans' support. "It was cool. I don't think I've had that before in any matches. I don't know if when I came to serve at Wimbledon for Wimbledon, I don't know if that happened. Look, it was brilliant. The atmosphere the whole match was amazing. I loved it. I'm really appreciative that the people gave me that atmosphere to play in. Yeah, I really enjoyed it."
During an on-court interview after the match, a video tribute played on screens in the stadium as players including Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, Caroline Wozniacki, Sloane Stephens and Nick Kyrgios thanked Murray for not only what he gave to the sport on the court, but for his friendship, passion and humility off of it.
"I think that's one of the things in many ways has been nice and something that I'll look back on," Murray said of the outpouring from his peers. "Although we've been extremely competitive with each other, played in big matches, all of the slams and Olympics, things like that, I do think there is like a genuine respect between all of those guys and people that I have their numbers, we message from time to time and stuff, congratulate each other.
"Yeah, that's something that I'm sure when we finish, when we finish playing, we'll remain friends. That's important at the end of the day."
Just days before the Australian Open gets under way, the 31-year-old Scot fought back tears at a pre-tournament press conference in Melbourne, saying he has been in pain for more than a year and a half, during which time he underwent hip surgery and missed almost a year on tour.
"Obviously been struggling for a long time," said Murray, who won the first of his three Grand Slam men's singles titles at the 2012 US Open. "I have been in a lot of pain for, well, it's been probably about 20 months now. I pretty much have done everything that I could to try to get my hip feeling better. ... I'm at a better place than I was six months ago, but still in a lot of pain. It's been tough."
Murray has played just 14 matches since July 2017 when he dropped the Wimbledon quarterfinal to Sam Querrey. Should he retire in July, his last US Open match will have been a second-round, four-set loss to Fernando Verdasco last September.
Murray memorably won his first major title inside Arthur Ashe Stadium six years ago, and he cemented his reputation as a national hero in Great Britain after winning Wimbledon in 2013 and 2016. His first triumph at the All-England Club ended a 76-year wait for a British champion since Fred Perry lifted the trophy in 1936.
In 2015, Murray went 11-0 in Davis Cup play to single-handily carry Great Britain to its first team triumph in almost seven decades. The following year, he successfully defended the Olympic Games singles gold medal he had earned in London four years earlier, and in 2017, Murray was knighted by the Queen in her New Year's Honours List for his services to tennis and charity.
Respected by his peers for his all-surface game and on-court intellect, Murray battled to find a way to carve a successful career in an era dominated by arguably the best three players to ever play the game. His ability to track down balls, grind out points and turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye is among the best in the sport, and many pundits have praised his tactical mind as much as his two-handed backhand. He found a way to make the 'Big Three' the 'Big Four' when the trio appeared to have a monopoly on the silverware.
But more than anything, Murray will be known as a fighter, both on and off the court. Between the lines, his never-say-die attitude and unwillingness to accept defeat has earned him fans across the globe. Away from the baseline, Murray, one of the first high-profile players to employ a female coach, has championed gender equality and women's rights, using his platform to advocate for equal prize money and speak out against sexism.
Tributes for Murray came flooding in on social media in the wake of his preess conference. Rod Laver called him "one of the greats of our game and a lovely bloke," while Petra Kvitova, who has fought through a lengthy injury battle recently herself, called him an inspiration and said his "hard work and perserverance taught [her] so much." Fellow Brit Johanna Konta said tennis was "unimaginable" without him in the picture, and Billie Jean King said his "voice for equality will inspire future generations."
Murray has a 45-12 record in 13 trips to New York. He has competed at the US Open every year since 2005 with the exception of 2017 when he was recovering from surgery, Murray made his debut at Flushing Meadows as an 18-year-old in 2005, defeating Andrei Pavel of Romania in five sets as a qualifier before falling to Arnaud Clement in another five-setter two days later.
Murray lost the 2008 US Open final to No. 2 seed Roger Federer, and he fell at the penultimate hurdle in 2011 in a four-set semifinal defeat to Rafael Nadal. But the Brit finally stood atop the tennis mountain the following year where, as the No. 3 seed, he defeated seeds in five consecutive rounds, capturing the title with a 7-6, 7-5, 2-6, 3-6, 6-2 win in blustery conditions over Novak Djokovic in a final that had been pushed from Sunday to Monday as heavy rain storms rolled through the region.
Murray, a five-time finalist at the Australian Open and 2016 runner-up in Paris, also reached three US Open quarterfinals and the fourth round three other times. Should he never win another Grand Slam singles match, he will finish with 189 wins and 44 losses.
The 6-foot-3 right-hander became No. 1 in the world rankings on Nov. 7, 2016, a position he held for 286 days until Aug. 20, 2017. He is one of only 26 players to hold the title of world No. 1, and one of only four active men.
Those numbers will become a footnote in the coming days and weeks. Murray said Friday he intends to play his first-round match in Melbourne against Roberto Bautista Agut on Monday, but that while he is able to play, he is not in a position to compete in the same way he has in the past.
Win or lose, he hopes to be able to fight through the pain long enough to make one final swansong at his home Slam six months from now. For a competitior known for wearing his heart and his emotions on his sleeve, anything less would be an unfortunate end for a champion who just wanted the chance to go out on his own terms.
"I'm not sure I'm able to play through the pain for another four or five months, he said. "I have an option to have another operation, which is a little bit more kind of severe than what I've had before - having my hip resurfaced - which will allow me to have a better quality of life and be out of pain.
"That's something that I'm seriously considering right now. Some athletes have had that and have gone back to competing. But there's obviously no guarantees with that. The reason for having an operation like that is not to return to professional sports, you know, it's just for a better quality of life."
Murray at the US Open
- Murray became the 25th different US Open men's singles champion of the Open era when he defeated Djokovic in the 2012 final.
- Murray has never been the top seed in New York. He was the No. 2 seed twice (in 2009 and 2016), the No. 3 seed (2013 and 2015) and the No. 4 seed twice (2010 and 2011). Only twice has he ever been unseeded at the US Open When he made his debut in 2005 and last year, when he was ranked No. 382 in the world following a year-long absense.
- The 31-year-old became the first man in tennis history to win the US Open and an Olympic gold medal in the same year in 2012. Murray is one of only four men to have won both a US Open title and an Olympic gold, along with Nadal, Andre Agassi and Beau Wright.
- Murray has made the evening session at the US Open his personal playground. His 13-1 mark in night matches at Flushing Meadows is the fourth-best winning percentage among men who have played at least five matches.
- The Brit is 7-2 in five-set matches at the US Open. Some of his most memorable performances in the Big Apple hasve gone the distance, including when he rallied from two sets down to beat Jurgen Meltzer in the third round in 2008 and, of course, his championship match victory over Djokovic.
- In fact, Murray has won three matches in New York after dropping the opening two sets. In addition to the win over Melzer, he came back from the brink to defeat Robin Haase in 2011 and Adrian Mannarino in 2015.