Australian Open 2019: Andy Murray's potential farewell epitomises his entire career
Farewells in sport are nearly impossible to perfect; just ask legends like Steven Gerrard and Iker Casillas who bowed out in quite unremarkable fashion. However, on Monday night, one man received possibly one of the best goodbyes of anyone in the professional sport, as Andy Murray walked off Melbourne Arena near midnight to rapturous applause for possibly the last time in his career.
All the headlines prior to Murray's first-round match against Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut consisted of his shock retirement announcement just a couple days previously where he had tearfully revealed in a press conference that the Australian Open could be his swansong.
"The pain is too much, really, and I don’t want to continue playing that way. The pain is not allowing me to enjoy competing or training or any of the stuff I love about tennis," Murray had said prior to his opening match, which prompted questions of whether he would even show up on court.
However, show up he did, and what was potentially his last Grand Slam match epitomised his entire career: a lot of spunk, a little bad lack, bucketloads of entertainment and battles with everything in his vicinity.
Murray's battles in the past have often been with himself more than his opponent: battles with the demons in his head, his ailing body, and his quest to be the perfect version of himself.
Ever since his younger days when he was just breaking into the ATP circuit, Murray has strived for perfection; a goal that propelled him to become the first Brit since Fred Perry to win Wimbledon. However, as he admitted himself, it is that same goal that could have ultimately curtailed his decorated career.
"It's been a flaw of mine. Like, some people might say, it's a positive thing that Andy worked really, really hard, such and such, trained hard. But I also often didn't stop myself when I was being told to do things. I should have sometimes said, 'No, I'm not doing that today'. Or, 'no, I don't want to train today, I'm sore, I need a day off.' I didn't do that. I would always kind of just go along with what I was being told. That was a mistake."
While Murray might have regrets at the way his career panned out, one thing he didn't regret was the effort he put into the match against Bautista Agut.
Hurtling around the baseline desperately throwing out a racquet at every single bullet the Spaniard was firing, Britain's former No.1 (that will take some getting used to) summoned the Murray of the past; the Murray that had picked up two Olympic Golds to go with two Wimbledon titles, to roar back from a two-sets-to-love deficit and draw level, bellowing a shriek of anger, ecstasy and everything in between as he strode to his chair.
Murray had looked spent physically by the end of just the second set, but as has been the case in the past, that's when he became the most lethal; when there was nothing left to lose.
Uncorking a few ferocious groundstrokes, Murray filled his fans - and himself - with hope as he ate away at the deficit and ensured the match went the distance. The third and fourth sets provided ample proof that the fire in the belly was still present. Each winner was accompanied by a thunderous 'come on' and a trademark fist pump. Murray was not ready to 'go gentle into that goodnight.'
As the fight in him increased though, so did the aches in his limbs and the now-famous limp became more pronounced than ever. Murray was again fighting with his body, as well as the man on the other end of the court, forcing himself to compete and put on a show, and the crowd acknowledged his efforts, breaking into thunderous applause every time the Brit unleashed one of his trademark winners from the baseline.
However, just like the story of his entire career, in which he has battled to stay afloat and remain competitive against the likes of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic just to fall short at the final hurdle, the light at the end of the tunnel remained a little too distant this time as well, as Murray's body betrayed him once again, resulting in a meek finish.
As he stepped up to serve to stay in the match for possibly one last time at the Australian Open, the crowd rose as one to bellow out their appreciation for the three-time Slam champion. At that moment, it was clear that they didn't care about the result; all they truly wanted was to see the Murray of yore one last time; the Murray that had been missing the last couple of years.
And as was his wont, the Scot delivered, rolling back the years and fighting back the pain to march off with his head held high.
Murray has been many things to tennis fans - especially fans of the Australian Open who have seen him come ever so close to capturing the Norman Brookes Trophy on five separate occasions - over the years, from brooding young brat to profanity-slinging veteran, but with his display on Monday night in front of 10000 wide-eyed spectators, he ensured that he will be only one thing to the fans going forward: beloved champion.
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