Mur­ray’s play­ing days may be over soon

Says Aus­tralian Open could be his last tour­na­ment dur­ing emo­tional news con­fer­ence

The Star Democrat - - SPORTS -

MEL­BOURNE, AUS­TRALIA (AP) — Andy Mur­ray is still hop­ing to make it to one more Wim­ble­don tour­na­ment be­fore his prob­lem­atic hip forces him into re­tire­ment. For now, he’s only com­mit­ting to the Aus­tralian Open.

In an emo­tional news con­fer­ence Fri­day, when a tear­ful Mur­ray had to leave the room shortly after his first at­tempt to get it started, and needed to pause sev­eral times to com­pose him­self once it had re­sumed, he con­firmed he’d play his first-round match at the Aus­tralian Open next week but wasn’t sure how much longer he could con­tinue be­yond that.

The 31-year-old Mur­ray said he trained in the off­sea­son with the main goal of mak­ing one last run at Wim­ble­don, where he ended the 77-year drought for Bri­tish men with his ti­tle in 2013, but now wasn’t sure he’d make it that far after do­ing ev­ery­thing he could to deal with the pain over the last 20 months.

“I can still play to a level — not a level I’m happy play­ing at,” he said. “But also, it’s not just that. The pain is too much re­ally.

“I don’t want to con­tinue play­ing that way. I tried pretty much ev­ery­thing that I could to get it right — that hasn’t worked.”

The three-time Grand Slam cham­pion is sched­uled to open against No. 22-ranked Roberto Bautista Agut at Mel­bourne Park, where the sea­son-open­ing ma­jor be­gins Mon­day.

He has reached the fi­nal five times at the Aus­tralian Open but never won the ti­tle. Get­ting through the first round will be a ma­jor achieve­ment in 2019 for the for­mer No. 1-ranked Mur­ray, who has slumped to No. 230 after play­ing just 12 matches last year fol­low­ing surgery on his right hip in Jan­uary.

He opened this sea­son last week at the Bris­bane In­ter­na­tional, where he won his open­ing match to James Duck­worth but lost in the se­cond round to Daniil Medvedev, show­ing vis­i­ble signs of limp­ing be­tween points and strug­gling to move freely around court. He had an in­com­plete prac­tice match against long­time friend and top-ranked No­vak Djokovic on Thurs­day at Mel­bourne Park, but only won two games.

Mur­ray has had a cel­e­brated ca­reer, breaking long Grand Slam droughts for Bri­tish men when he won the U.S. Open in 2012 and at Wim­ble­don the fol­low­ing year — when he was the first Bri­tish man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win the pres­ti­gious lawn tennis ti­tle. He also be­came the only player to win con­sec­u­tive sin­gles gold medals at the Olympics when he won at Lon­don in 2012 and Rio in 2016.

Long con­sid­ered part of the so-called Big Four in men’s tennis with Roger Fed­erer, Rafael Nadal and No­vak Djokovic, Mur­ray likely will be the youngest of them to re­tire.

At 37, Fed­erer is in Aus­tralia at­tempt­ing to win the ti­tle for the third con­sec­u­tive year and for a seventh time over­all. At 31, top-ranked Djokovic is at Mel­bourne Park also try­ing to win a seventh Aus­tralian ti­tle. The 32-year-old Nadal is ranked No. 2 and con­fi­dent of ex­tend­ing his ca­reer for sev­eral years.

Mur­ray has been pre­par­ing for the 2019 sea­son know­ing that his ca­reer could be over within months. In his train­ing pro­gram last month, he told his sup­port group that the pain was be­com­ing too much and that he needed to set a date for re­tire­ment.

“I spoke to my team and I told that I can’t keep do­ing this, that I needed to have an end point be­cause (I was) sort of play­ing with no idea when the pain was go­ing to stop,” he told the news con­fer­ence Fri­day. “I said to my team ‘I think I can get through to Wim­ble­don’ ... that’s where I would like to stop — stop play­ing.”

Mur­ray added, be­com­ing tear­ful again, “But I’m also not cer­tain I’m able to do that.

“I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for an­other four of five months.”

He said he’s con­sid­er­ing an­other hip op­er­a­tion, more to im­prove his qual­ity of life than as a way of re­turn­ing to the top level in tennis.

“I have the op­tion to have an­other op­er­a­tion, which is a lit­tle bit more se­vere than what I’ve had be­fore — hav­ing my hip resur­faced,” he said. “That’s some­thing that I’m se­ri­ously con­sid­er­ing right now. Some ath­letes have had that and have gone back to com­pet­ing (but) the rea­son for hav­ing an op­er­a­tion like that is not to re­turn to pro­fes­sional sports, you know, it’s just for a bet­ter qual­ity of life.”

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