‘I felt help­less against Djokovic and it sucks’

Lack of com­pet­i­tive­ness and ri­valry left Mur­ray dev­as­tated Next hip op­er­a­tion will be to im­prove the qual­ity of his life

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Sport -

TENNIS COR­RE­SPON­DENT in Mel­bourne Lit­tle by lit­tle, drip by drip, it was the ac­cre­tion of small ag­o­nies that drove Andy Mur­ray into the in­ter­view room at Mel­bourne Park yes­ter­day to tear­fully an­nounce his im­pend­ing re­tire­ment.

Most or­di­nary mor­tals would have packed it in long ago, but then Mur­ray would not have won two Wim­ble­don ti­tles with­out his ex­tra­or­di­nary stub­born­ness. A nat­u­ral ditherer, he likes to keep all op­tions in play un­til the last minute.

What pushed him over the edge this time was the hu­mil­i­a­tion of Thurs­day af­ter­noon’s prac­tice match against world No 1 No­vak Djokovic.

Mur­ray and Djokovic were born just a week apart, in May 1987, so their ca­reers trav­elled in par­al­lel. Here at the Aus­tralian Open, they con­tested no fewer than four fi­nals. Mur­ray lost the lot, but at least he had al­ways com­peted – un­til now.

“You just kind of feel, like, help­less on the court,” he told a group of Bri­tish re­porters yes­ter­day, after an emo­tional press con­fer­ence which saw him break down in tears and tem­po­rar­ily leave the room when he first tried to speak.

“It’s just … it sucks. I’ve played I don’t know how many hours of tennis against him here over the years. And al­though I didn’t win, the com­pet­i­tive­ness was al­ways there. Yes­ter­day, there was none of that and there was no feel­ing of ri­valry. I was just not happy with the way I felt on court.”

Hav­ing shaken hands at the end of his 6-1, 4-1 drub­bing, Mur­ray sat on the court­side bench with his team and waved his hands around an­grily in a lengthy de­brief. Many ob­servers won­dered then whether he might with­draw from the Aus­tralian Open. And per­haps he would have done, had there been a de­cent chance of his re­turn­ing here in 12 months’ time.

As it is, Mon­day’s first-round meet­ing with Roberto Bautista Agut – the 22nd seed, and the re­cent cham­pion in Doha – looks likely to be his fi­nal match as a pro­fes­sional tennis player.

Once his tour­na­ment is done, Mur­ray will al­most cer­tainly re­port for a se­cond op­er­a­tion on that re­cal­ci­trant right hip. The first, which was car­ried out here in Mel­bourne 12 months ago, was an arthroscopy – a sim­ple clear-out of an­gry tis­sue and float­ing car­ti­lage, which failed to re­solve his chronic pain. The se­cond will be a more sig­nif­i­cant pro­ce­dure, in which the top of his fe­mur and the in­side of his hip socket are both coated with a layer of metal.

Mur­ray has al­ready stated that the pri­or­ity of his next surgery will be qual­ity of life, rather than adding to his al­ready sparkling tennis CV. He dis­closed that he has been strug­gling to even put on shoes and socks with­out sig­nif­i­cant pain.

“If I stop play­ing tennis to­day,” he added, “I would se­ri­ously be con­sid­er­ing hav­ing an op­er­a­tion be­cause day-to-day life is not fun. I can’t do stuff I would want to do, even if I wasn’t a pro­fes­sional ath­lete. I would want to go and play foot­ball with my friends, or go and play 18 holes of golf and en­joy do­ing that. Whereas I can’t think of any­thing worse than go­ing and play­ing five-a-side foot­ball with my friends, be­cause I can’t kick a foot­ball.

“There is a pos­si­bil­ity it could pro­long my ca­reer. Hip resur­fac­ing is some­thing that has been around for 15 years and al­lows younger

Andy Mur­ray ar­rives at his sched­uled press con­fer­ence in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day The tears start to flow as Mur­ray strug­gles to speak to the as­sem­bled me­dia

Asked how he is feel­ing, Mur­ray replies “not great”, his voice crack­ing

Pain game: Andy Mur­ray with his mother, Judy, on In­sta­gram (left) in Mel­bourne ahead of the Aus­tralian Open, and in dis­com­fort dur­ing his prac­tice match against No­vak Djokovic (right)

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