The Mel­bourne ul­ti­ma­tum

Andy Mur­ray takes to the court to pre­pare for his first-round match at the Aus­tralian Open, hav­ing said it could be his last tour­na­ment


I know I’m most likely go­ing to lose in the first round. I’m not happy about it

NO- ONE, es­pe­cially not Andy Mur­ray, knows what will hap­pen when he steps out on to court to­mor­row for his first-round match at the Aus­tralian Open.

The Scot, who faces No 22 seed Roberto Bautista-Agut of Spain, prac­tised yes­ter­day with Grigor Dimitrov and there were mo­ments when it looked as if ev­ery­thing was nor­mal, as if the events of the pre­vi­ous 24 hours were a bad dream.

But the cold facts are that Mur­ray will go onto court un­sure if he is phys­i­cally able to put him­self through the pain one more time to get the job done.

On Fri­day morn­ing in Mel­bourne, Mur­ray an­nounced that he planned to retire af­ter Wim­ble­don, if he gets that far, his hip in­jury sim­ply giv­ing him too much pain, with no sign that it will ever im­prove to let him be truly com­pet­i­tive.

As the trib­utes con­tin­ued to pour in yes­ter­day from all his fel­low pros, in­clud­ing the likes of Rafael Nadal and Nick Kyrgios, Mur­ray said he ex­pected to feel a lit­tle strange when he plays what could even be his last match.

“I know I’ve got no chance of win­ning the tour­na­ment and I know most likely I’m go­ing to lose in the first round here and I’m not happy about that,” Mur­ray said. “But also, be­cause of the way the last six months of com­pet­ing has gone, I know I could win, but I know that it’s likely that I won’t and it’s go­ing to be un­com­fort­able.”

For a man whose ev­ery sinew has been stretched in search of glory, it is sure to be an odd feel­ing.

“If it is my last match, I want to try to en­joy it and en­joy the whole ex­pe­ri­ence, which is maybe some­thing dur­ing my ca­reer that I’ve not done be­cause it’s al­ways been fo­cused on tac­tics and win­ning and find­ing a way, and that’s the most im­por­tant thing.

“Whereas com­ing in here.. it feels very dif­fer­ent for me. I’m not prac­tis­ing any­where near as much as I used to be­cause I can’t, so if I have bad prac­tice I can’t just go back on the prac­tice court and work on my serve or my move­ment or what­ever I’m not happy with. I can’t do that any more.”

On Fri­day, Mur­ray said he may have a hip resur­fac­ing op­er­a­tion sooner rather than later, some­thing that could even mean he does not make it to Wim­ble­don, de­pend­ing on the re­cov­ery time.

Over the past few months, Mur­ray has had time to think about life be­yond the ten­nis court. But, while im­prov­ing his golf game might be on the agenda, the Scot said he can­not even think about the fu­ture yet, and that to do so might be a mis­take.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause once I’d started think­ing about stop­ping, that there was a pos­si­bil­ity that I wasn’t go­ing to be play­ing much longer, all of the things that I thought that I would quite like to do, I have zero in­ter­est in do­ing right now,” he said.

“I have no mo­ti­va­tion to do any­thing else just now. Think­ing about what I do when I fin­ish play­ing and rush­ing into de­ci­sions on that, from speak­ing to psy­chol­o­gists and stuff, is kind of the worst thing I should be do­ing.

“It’s go­ing to take time for me to deal with it and I need a bit of time to kind of get over it and then kind of know what my next steps are go­ing to be or what I do af­ter ten­nis.”

Hav­ing tried to re­hab his sore hip for the se­cond half of 2016, Mur­ray had hoped the surgery he un­der­went in Jan­uary last year would be suc­cess­ful enough to get him back to his best. But, as time went on, it be­came clear it was not work­ing, a re­al­i­sa­tion that in it­self was tough to take.

“I’d been in pain for quite a long time be­fore­hand but was man­ag­ing it and was able to play so I was think­ing, ‘If my hip gets bet­ter and im­proves I’ll be able to go back to com­pet­ing’, which is some­thing I had also dis­cussed with many ex­perts and spe­cial­ists.

“But it didn’t get to that point, and be­cause of when I had the surgery and what I was told about the surgery and the tim­ings of when things can be ben­e­fi­cial, I [thought], well, I need to wait it out a bit and see. Ob­vi­ously it didn’t help enough.”

Mur­ray re­mains a supreme com­peti­tor and, with the help of painkillers, will give ev­ery­thing against Bautis­taAgut, as he al­ways has.

The only thing he does know for sure, though, is that when the time comes to put the rack­ets away for good, it is not go­ing to be easy.

“I know that will be dif­fi­cult,” he said. “I love ten­nis. I love play­ing the game.”

Andy Mur­ray dis­plays the

Andy Mur­ray puts in some prac­tice with Grigor Dimitrov yes­ter­day

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