andy murray’s story is not over yet. however, even a losing comeback to withstand comparison to the best of his golden career shouldn’t obscure the reality that his remaining time on the main stage isn’t a deal he can negotiate in good faith indefinitely, and it’s long enough. honest enough to say it.
world number 23 roberto bautista agut, who came into the australian open in excellent shape, should have buried him in two hours but murray dragged him into a dogfight that lasted four hours and nine minutes, before the 30 years- the old Spaniard won 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2.
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on a balmy monday afternoon in melbourne, murray threw a fight that gave bautista agut repeated reason to believe he would lose to him for the fourth time. However, as Murray’s body faded in inverse proportion to his soaring spirit and the exhortations of the packed stadium at Melbourne Court, he had to bow to the inevitable.
The former world number 1 revealed before the match that he would have to return to the operating table sooner rather than later to fix his persistently ailing hip. even then, the chances of him continuing would be marginal. He’d love to say goodbye at Wimbledon, he said, but he’s more likely to have a microphone in hand than a racket on his next visit.
However, with his mom, Judy, and older brother, Jamie, eyeing every sweat spot, Murray flirted with the impossible once again. then he said courtside of the game and his reception: “that was amazing. Thank you so much to everyone who came out tonight. Honestly, I’ve loved playing here over the years. It is an amazing place to play tennis. if it was my last game, it was an amazing way to end. I literally gave everything I had. It wasn’t enough tonight, so congratulations to Roberto and his team.
“Maybe I’ll see you again. I will do my best to try. if I want to come back, I will have to undergo a big operation where there is no guarantee that I will be able to come back. I will do my best.”
bautista agut said: “andy deserves this environment, he deserves all the people who came to see him. It was an amazing match, a really good fight. he is a tough fighter, he gave it his all until the last point and I want to congratulate him for everything he did for tennis.”
This was followed by a filmed tribute from several of Murray’s friends and rivals. roger federer said: “an amazing race. Congrats friend.” novak djokovic said: “thank you, my friend. my best wishes. we had a great trip, from the age of 12”. Rafael Nadal, who has known him since they met as teenagers in Barcelona, was equally effusive, as were John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Alexander Zverev and Caroline Wozniacki, who revealed: “You always had the best jokes.” /p>
in the original scottish play, the general suffers from arrogance, something this son of glasgow could never be accused of. here his honesty was written in every grimace and gesture. It was like watching a performance with a sad ending and a familiar narrative, each twist and turn launching him back from the edge of the stage for one more encore, the place he’s been for the past two years.
when he failed to deliver the dagger after grabbing an early break point, then moments later he threw a backhand, an act that didn’t promise much. Act II veered further into a bad spot, as Bautista Agut broke up early and kept his tennis tidy. murray, struggling in every exchange, failed to find the magic to hold his own in the longer rallies. the instincts were rock-solid, the racket hit the ball with a familiar certainty but not as often as needed, and the hip remained stubbornly unreliable.
bautista agut stretched it wide and deep, just like murray used to do in his pomp, when he won three majors, two olympic gold medals and a davis cup. but now he was suffering. he always suffered. suffering was something he embraced and it was a weapon he used to bring opponents to their knees before him. however, this seemed cruel.
It was bautista agut who chose when the exchanges ended. After an hour and a half, Murray was down two games and running low on ammunition. trapped near the baseline, he could no longer find the right angles. his lateral speed was diminished, his balance not always perfect. the inexorable depletion of his resources was interrupted by fleeting re-enactments of his past and he raised his fist each time. Even if he had been Federer across the net, the crowd would have been with Murray on this wonderful night.
You could almost hear the last curtain being raised to descend as Act III got underway. in a quarter of an hour bautista agut scored another break, the fourth in five opportunities. Murray waited, playing each merit ball as if it were the last of his career. then, against all expectations but his own, he won four points in a row, broke in game eight, kept scoreless and was in front. As the denouement approached, Murray discovered his old fighting rhythm. His tormentor saw his serve again, but Murray saved with a perfect backhand, followed by another, and then a forehand crosscourt.
A pair of groundstrokes on both wings in game 10 brought him within two points of extending the drama. Another silence fell, then a roar rippled through the arena as Murray hit a backhand for the deuce. he got his first set point but found the tape. a drop from the deep fell short. a forehand swirled wide. they went to the tie-break.
murray had won 194 shots in 853 matches, 87 of 400. the scotsman, who was seen having a flutter at the local casino over the weekend, bet on the all-out attack. when he thrashed the winner to seal the set, a swear word escaped his lips; he true to himself, as always. It was the ninth time he had come back from two sets to keep the fight going.
murray double faulted for the first time, but fought off deuce to tie it 2-2 in the fourth. after almost three hours, with 0-30 down on his serve, he slammed his injured right leg hard on the court, as if trying to start an old jalopy. he came to life.
serving to stay in the set, the match, the championship – and the sport, perhaps – murray strained every working tendon (and some that might not). he held on and, as fireworks from the nearby mcg lit up the night sky, he did it again to force another tiebreaker, the highlight of which was a blocked volley that made it 5-1 on his way to drag down the bewildered bautista . agut in a decisive set.
bautista agut broke for 2-1. From there to the finish, he steadily dismantled Murray’s resistance, forcing him into one last tired backhand that swelled just before the net.