All it took at an Australian Open news conference in Melbourne was a simple question: “How are you feeling?”
“Not great,” Andy Murray replied with a sigh that soon turned into tears and a brief exit from the press room. When the three-time Grand Slam singles winner managed to recover some, but hardly all, of his composure, he explained that chronic hip pain had him close to retirement.
How close? Murray said that he wanted to make one last run at Wimbledon before calling it a career. He couldn’t be sure his body would allow him to play past the Australian Open, though, let alone make it to the All England Club in July.
“I’m not feeling good. I’ve been struggling for a long time,” the 31-year-old Scotland native told reporters (via The Guardian). “Been in a lot of pain for 20 months now. Pretty much done everything I could to make my hip feel better.
“Wimbledon is where I would like to stop playing but I’m not certain I’ll be able to do that. I’m not certain I can play through the pain for another four or five months.”
Murray, who played in just 12 matches last year after undergoing surgery in January 2018, said his right hip is still “severely damaged” and he’s only able to “play with limitations.”
“I’m going to play [in Australia]. I can still play to a level — not a level I’m happy playing at,” he said. “But also, it’s not just that. The pain is too much really.”
Murray made it clear that his physical condition was a subject of great distress but even if he is forced into retirement far sooner than he would have wanted, he could comfort himself with the knowledge that he has enjoyed an all-time great career in tennis and for a British athlete in any sport. Murray received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II in December 2016, not long after winning his second Wimbledon title, defending his gold medal at the Olympics and reaching world No. 1 status.
Murray’s first Olympic triumph, in London no less, represented a breakthrough for a player who had struggled to join the elite tier occupied by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. He followed it up at the 2012 U.S. Open with his first Grand Slam title, becoming the first British man to accomplish that feat since Fred Perry in 1936. 2013 saw him win Wimbledon for the first time, and two years later he led Britain to its first Davis Cup title in 79 years.
On Friday, he was ranked 230th in the world and faced with career mortality. He cited acts as mundane as putting on shoes and socks in revealing, “There’s little things like day-to-day which are also a struggle. It would be nice to do them without any pain.”
Among the tennis stars who were moved by Murray’s comments at the news conference was Argentina’s Juan Martin del Potro, who tweeted, “Please don’t stop trying. Keep fighting. I can imagine your pain and sadness. I hope you can overcome this.”
Saying on Twitter to Murray, “We love you and we want to see you happy and doing well,” the world No. 5 added, “You deserve to retire on your own terms, whenever that happens.”
Murray said that he was contemplating another surgical procedure, but it would be a more “severe” one that “would give me a better quality of life” but make it nearly impossible to resume his tennis career. “The reason to have it is not to return,” he said.
Murray is set to play a match Monday against 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut as the Australian Open gets underway. Djokovic, also 31, is the top men’s seed, while Nadal, 32, is seeded second and the 37-year-old Federer, the defending champion, is third.
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