Three years ago, a tearful Andy Murray sat in the main interview room at Melbourne Park ahead of his first round and admitted the pain in his hip had become too much to bear and that he was planning on retiring from tennis, with the Australian Open potentially being his last tournament.
Murray comes full circle
The former world No.1 banishes painful memories at Melbourne Park
“The pain is too much really, it’s not something that I want to – I don’t want to continue playing that way. I’ve tried pretty much everything that I could to get it right and that hasn’t worked,” the former world No.1 conceded in a standing-room only press conference.
Tributes for Murray poured in throughout the following weekend as TV screens around the tournament grounds replayed the Scot’s emotional admission.
A premature farewell
“It’s a sad day for the sport and for everyone you’ve had an impact on,” read a message from Nick Kyrgios to Murray on social media, while Juan Martin del Potro said on Instagram: “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.”
In his first round against Roberto Bautista Agut on John Cain Arena – called Melbourne Arena at the time – Murray went down two-sets-to-love before he tapped into his inner warrior. He was visibly in pain, his movement hampered and his facial expressions directed at his box conveying just how difficult it was to compete on his damaged hip.
The Brit ended up losing to Bautista Agut in five sets and was then called onto the court to watch a tribute video prepared by the tournament in which his peers wished him a happy retirement.
At some point through the course of that emotional roller coaster, Murray decided against retirement and instead underwent hip resurfacing surgery that resuscitated his career.
‘I couldn’t ask for more’
On Tuesday, three years on from that brutal defeat to Bautista Agut and that awkward and unwarranted on-court farewell party, Murray returned to John Cain Arena where he battled past No.21 seed Nikoloz Basilashvili in five sets to reach the second round of the Australian Open for the first time since 2017.
It was a well-earned full circle moment for the three-time major champion, who is now one victory away from re-entering the top 100.
“Yeah it’s amazing. It’s been a tough three, four years. I’ve put in a lot of work to get back here,” Murray said during his on-court interview.
“I’ve played on this court many times and the atmosphere is incredible, I’ve always had fantastic support. This is the one where I thought potentially I played my last match on three years ago but amazing to be back, winning a five-set battle like that, I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Except the ever ambitious Murray is hungry for more.
Ahead of the start of this 2022 season, the 34-year-old clearly stated his goals for this upcoming chapter of his career. He has concrete targets, like trying to get to 50 tournament title victories (he is currently at 46), and hitting 700 match-wins (he is currently at 696). But he also dreams of making a real impact at the Grand Slam level once again, having not made it past the third round at a major since Wimbledon 2017.
“I would like to have a deep run; it’s something I’ve not had in one of the Slams since I came back from the injury and it’s something that’s motivating me. I’ve played some of my best tennis here over the years and I hope I can do it this tournament,” said Murray on Tuesday.
A happy hunting ground
Murray’s winning percentage at the Australian Open is his second-best among all four majors. Victory in the second round against Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel on Thursday would be his 50th at the tournament, from 63 contested.
With a 0-5 record in finals at Melbourne Park, one wonders if Murray has any bittersweet feelings towards the place.
“I’ve always loved it there,” he said in a press conference in Abu Dhabi last month. “Obviously I would have loved to have won one of my finals there but I played four finals against Novak there, and he’s won nine; also lost to him in the semis once, which was a brutal match, I lost to Roger once in the quarter-finals, once to him in the final – these guys what they’ve gone on to achieve is like, there’s no shame in having lost to the greatest players that have ever played the game in those matches.
“I kind of feel like I maybe deserve to have an Australian Open, but I never got it done in the big matches there. Got close and was in good position a couple of times, but couldn’t convert it, so that’s something I obviously have to deal with. But my memories from Australia, in terms of how I feel about the place, I love it there.”
‘It’s extraordinary what he was able to do’
With a metal hip and a huge heart, Murray can look back on his journey with great pride. His fellow players are stunned by the fact he was able to bounce back from such an injury and appreciate the tremendous amount of work he put in to extend his career just a little bit longer.
“He's definitely not the guy that would just give up and be like, no, I'm done,” former world No.3 Grigor Dimitrov said of Murray on Tuesday.
“I think it's extraordinary what he was able to do after that. I saw him moving even on the court. Yes, it's clearly not the same, but it's staggering. Honestly it's amazing for me to see, and I think for everybody, not just for me.”
Murray prepared for this Australian Open by reaching the final at the ATP 250 tournament in Sydney - his first final appearance since he won Antwerp in 2019.
Reflecting on the road that led him back here, Murray said it best in his latest column for the BBC: “It would have been easy to stop playing - but I kept trying and trying. I'm proud of that work and effort.”