Aus­tralian Open fo­cus on Mur­ray as re­tire­ment looms

USA TODAY US Edition - - SPORTS - San­dra Har­witt

MEL­BOURNE, Aus­tralia – Typ­i­cally the con­ver­sa­tion ahead of the start of a Grand Slam ten­nis tour­na­ment is about pre­dic­tions as to which player is likely to lift the tro­phy in two week’s time.

That, how­ever, is not the case re­gard­ing the men’s event in this Aus­tralian Open. Rather than won­der­ing if top seed No­vak Djokovic, sec­ond seed Rafael Nadal, third seed Roger Fed­erer or some out­sider will cap­ture the first ma­jor of the sea­son, the fo­cus is all on un­seeded Andy Mur­ray.

The three-time Grand Slam cham­pion and reign­ing two-time Olympic gold medal­ist made a bomb­shell an­nounce­ment Fri­day that his re­tire­ment from ten­nis is im­mi­nent. Suf­fer­ing from a right hip in­jury for nearly two years, which surgery last year in Mel­bourne failed to cure, Mur­ray con­firmed the pain is prov­ing to be too dif­fi­cult to en­dure any longer.

“I can still play but not to the level I’m happy play­ing at,” said the 31-year-old, who would like to fin­ish his ca­reer at Wim­ble­don, where he has been the cham­pion twice. “I don’t want to con­tinue play­ing that way. I tried pretty much ev­ery­thing that I could to get it right.”

Mur­ray, who reached the Aus­tralian Open fi­nal on five oc­ca­sions, ac­knowl­edged that there was a chance that fans will see the last of him play­ing pro­fes- sion­ally here in Mel­bourne.

Early Mon­day East­ern time, he took on 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain in the first round. The three pre­vi­ous out­ings Mur­ray had with Agut all went in his own fa­vor with­out a loss of a set, but there is con­cern his luck might change this time.

Of­ten spo­ken of as the best gen­er­a­tion of men’s ten­nis in his­tory, Djokovic, Nadal and Fed­erer weighed in about the soon-to-be de­parted Mur­ray from their fab­u­lous four club. The dis­cus­sion was tinged with the re­al­ity they are all over 30 now, have all had in­juries that have dis­rupted their ca­reers, and an aware­ness that any one of them could be the next to go.

Nadal, 32, who has clearly dealt with the most in­juries of the four­some dur­ing his ca­reer, al­ways seems to bounce back. He was adamant Satur­day that he’s not ready to hang up his rack­ets. The 17-time Grand Slam cham­pion has suf­fered most fre­quently from knee prob­lems and most re­cently had mi­nor foot surgery in the off­sea­son.

“I didn’t ar­rive to that point,” he said, when asked if he also should be con­tem­plat­ing re­tire­ment. “I am a pos­i­tive guy. I al­ways had the feel­ing that we’ll fix it. But I know that ten­nis is not for­ever. I want to do it as long as I can and give my­self the best pos­si­bil­i­ties to fight for the things I am pas­sion­ate about.

“That’s life. So all the best for him,” Nadal added. “We will miss him. To­day is him. To­mor­row an­other one. We are not 20 any­more. Our gen­er­a­tion, ev­ery­one is more than 30.”

Djokovic, who won the last two Grand Slam ti­tles of 2018 after re­cu­per­at­ing from a se­ri­ous right el­bow in­jury, is one week younger than Mur­ray. The two prac­ticed a few days ago and Djokovic ad­mit­ted it was easy to see Mur­ray can­not move on court as he once did.

“Ob­vi­ously to see him strug­gle so much and go through so much pain, it’s very sad and it hurts me as his long­time friend, col­league, ri­val,” Djokovic said. “I will carry beau­ti­ful mem­o­ries from the court and off the court, as well, with him. As some­one that has been through a ma­jor in­jury my­self re­cently, I can prob­a­bly re­late a lit­tle bit to what he’s go­ing through.”

Fed­erer, the two-time Aus­tralian Open de­fend­ing cham­pion who owns a record 20 Grand Slam ti­tles in the men’s game, is the old­est of the four­some at 37. He’s had the least phys­i­cal trou­bles of the four, hav­ing lost only six months on tour in 2016 after a knee in­jury, but knows the end of his ca­reer will come sooner rather than later.

“I def­i­nitely feel a lit­tle bit of luck,” Fed­erer said. “I think his body took the de­ci­sion, un­for­tu­nately, in this case. I was dis­ap­pointed and sad, a lit­tle bit shocked, to know now that we’re go­ing to lose him at some point. But we’re go­ing to lose ev­ery­body at some point. It’s just now that’s a def­i­nite.”

WIL­LIAM WEST/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Andy Mur­ray breaks down dur­ing a news con­fer­ence Fri­day in Mel­bourne in which he dis­cussed his health and fu­ture.

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