The five-times Australian Open finalist lost to Roberto Bautista-Agut in the first round but left the court to a huge ovation from the capacity crowd.
Andy Murray exited the Australian Open on Monday in the first round, bowed but far from unbroken as he struggled through five sets against Roberto Bautista-Agut, pausing for the occasional ovation from the crowd on the Melbourne Arena, who were aware they were witnessing probably the final match of the five-times finalist’s storied career, and certainly his last in Australia.
If it comes to pass that this was Murray’s swansong, the 31-year-old went out as he would have wanted. He may have been unable to move as he wanted, often not bothering to chase down drop shots, but his fighting spirit – and his verbal repertoire – remained perfectly intact, to the delight of the capacity turnout for the evening encounter.
A brutal exchange at match point on the Murray serve - a net-cord in the same game drawing a wry smile from the three-times Grand Slam winner, who has profited and paid equally at the caprice of the slap of ball on tape – ended with a volleyed winner from the Olympic champion and a roar from the stands.
But it merely put off what had become inevitable as the fifth set unfolded; it was a minor miracle Murray had even made it that far. Bautista, seeded 22 in Melbourne, had taken the first two sets easily enough but Murray dug in, unwilling to let his last game at the Australian Open be remembered as anything other than a typically battling display.
The former world number one faded badly in the decider and when it fell to Bautista to serve out he did so without mercy, even if emotion betrayed the Spaniard as he came around the net to embrace Murray after his victory.
Murray out on his own terms
“Maybe I’ll see you again,” Murray told the crowd after the match, but unless he decides to ride into the tennis sunset as doubles partner to his Grand Slam-winning brother Jamie, it will more likely be as a commentator than a player. Whether he will even be able to conclude his career at the venue where it reached its zenith in six months’ time is open to question.
If Melbourne was the final waltz, Murray will have been gratified by the send-off he received. A video montage from his peers was expected. The huge, genuinely affectionate ovation that followed perhaps less so, at least in scale. But Murray has always danced to his own tune, something that often alienated him from his own public but has always been appreciated by the less socially inhibited Melbourne crowd. That much was clear as he left the court, with Bautista at his side, to the sight of a full house and yet not a single backside on a seat.