‘I’ve played in pain for a long time,’ re­veals Mur­ray on eve of an emo­tional last hur­rah

In his first ma­jor in­ter­view since last week’s tear­ful an­nounce­ment of his im­mi­nent re­tire­ment, Bri­tain’s ten­nis great talks of to­mor­row’s tie in Mel­bourne – and how he’ll cope af­ter­wards. By

The Observer - - News - Kevin Mitchell

‘Rush­ing into de­ci­sions is the worst thing I can do. It’s go­ing to take time for me to deal with this, to get over it’

‘Most likely I’m go­ing to lose in the first round. It will be un­com­fort­able. If it is my last match, I want to try to en­joy it’

Andy Mur­ray has been guard­ing a chronic hip con­di­tion for sev­eral years, he has re­vealed in his first ma­jor in­ter­view since an­nounc­ing his plans to re­tire from the game be­cause of in­jury.

Speak­ing to jour­nal­ists be­fore what could be his last pub­lic ap­pear­ance on a court to­mor­row at the Aus­tralian Open, the three-time grand slam win­ner talked of his bit­ter re­gret at hav­ing to aban­don com­pet­i­tive ten­nis and ad­mit­ted he had “zero in­ter­est” in do­ing any­thing else.

He said: “Be­cause I’ve been in pain for a long time, it’s not as sim­ple as, ‘My pain started at the French Open, I’ve never had hip pain be­fore.’ 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 im­proves I’ll be able to go back to com­pet­ing.’”

The 31-year-old said that he had dis­cussed com­pet­ing again with spe­cial­ists. “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.”

He looked down, paused and added: “Ob­vi­ously it didn’t help enough. That’s how dif­fi­cult it was.”

If the for­mer world No 1’s match against the Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round of the Aus­tralian Open to­mor­row is his last pub­lic ap­pear­ance on a ten­nis court – as he fears it might be – he will leave to rap­tur­ous ap­plause and the grat­i­tude of a gen­er­a­tion. De­spite beat­ing Agut in their three pre­vi­ous matches, Mur­ray does not ex­pect to win.

The Scot said he was de­ter­mined to fol­low ad­vice from psy­chol­o­gists and de­lay mak­ing de­ci­sions about what he does next.

“I don’t want to stop play­ing ten­nis just now,” he ad­mit­ted. “I don’t feel ready, the rest of my body feels per­fect.

“That’s the hard thing about it. It’s not like I wake up and my whole body’s sore, and just aching, and it’s too much. It’s just one prob­lem that can’t be fixed. That’s why it’s dif­fi­cult. Look, lots of things have been weird. Like, the US Open last year for me was quite odd, be­cause I was in a lot of pain.”

There he lost to Fer­nando Ver­dasco in the sec­ond round. He lost to him again in Shen­zhen – and that was it for 2018 – 12 matches, seven de­feats and noth­ing to show for it but a seem­ingly in­erad­i­ca­ble limp and dwin­dling hopes af­ter 15 years as a pro­fes­sional.

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

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

What Mur­ray wants to do af­ter spend­ing nearly his en­tire life play­ing ten­nis is to have some fun, play fivea-side with his mates, and fit in some golf – which might have been his cho­sen sport, if his fa­ther, Wil­lie, had had his way, rather than his mother, Judy, who steered him to­wards ten­nis.

He could have been a foot­baller. But ten­nis, with its in­built frus­tra­tions and chal­lenges, its quirks of scor­ing and cir­cum­stances, suited his mer­cu­rial rhythm. It gave him a can­vas on which to paint his par­tic­u­lar art. Few did it more art­fully. Man­u­fac­tur­ing a grace­ful de­par­ture has not been easy, though.

“Com­ing in here, my mind­set is… it feels very dif­fer­ent. Like, the other day, I was say­ing to my team: ‘The thing that’s dif­fi­cult – be­cause I’m not prac­tis­ing any­where near as much as I used to – is I can’t just go back on the prac­tice court and work on my serve or what­ever I’m not happy with – I can’t do that any more.’

“But 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 I would quite like to do, I have zero in­ter­est in do­ing right now.

“I have no mo­ti­va­tion to do any­thing else just now. Think­ing about what I do when I fin­ish play­ing and rush­ing into de­ci­sions – from speak­ing to psy­chol­o­gists – is the worst thing I should be do­ing. It’s go­ing to take time for me to deal with it. I need time to get over it and then to know what my next steps are go­ing to be. “I know that will be dif­fi­cult. I love ten­nis. I love play­ing the game.”

Andy Mur­ray warms up in Mel­bourne yes­ter­day; bot­tom, win­ning Wim­ble­don in 2016. EPA, Getty, AP

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