It was news that many had been expecting for a while, and yet it was still a highly emotional press conference this morning when Andy Murray announced his retirement from tennis.
The Scot has been struggling for the best part of 18 months with a chronic hip injury, and surgery last January has not yielded positive results.
Indeed, the three-time major winner has confirmed that he lives day to day in excruciating pain, and really has no choice but to retire.
“I’m not sure I’m able to play through the pain for another four or five months,” he told the press ahead of next week’s Australian Open.
“I want to get to Wimbledon and stop, but I’m not certain I can do that.”
It would be an emotional swansong for Murray at SW19, and you suspect that he will play some part at Wimbledon 2019 even if he is unable to compete in the singles. More on that later.
But with the Australian Open coming up – and the French Open in the spring – prior to the grass court campaign, the question remains: can Murray go out on the ultimate high by clinching one final Grand Slam trophy?
The Australian Open
It would be ironic if Sir Andy could clinch the Australian Open when he has all but given upon his career.
On five separate occasions he’s reached the final at the Rod Laver Arena, and in each he has come up just short.
Novak Djokovic has been his chief tormentor, beating the Scot in four of those finals, and it would be remarkable – but not surprising, given Murray’s propensity for a battle – if he could go one better in 2019.
But preparation has been scarce, and odds of 50/1 – with 100/1 available with a couple of bookmakers – reflective of his chances.
Murray has only played two competitive matches since September, beating James Duckworth before closing to Daniil Medvedev in the second round of ATP Brisbane, and that is not the form required to win a Grand Slam event unfortunately.
“I can still play to a level, but not a level I have played at,” he told the press, and that is instructive of his hopes in Australia.
The French Open
The Scot is working with the respected fitness expert Bill Knowles, and while he is renowned for working minor miracles with sportsmen and women, it would appear he has his work cut out with Murray.
“I’ve been in a lot of pain for about 20 months now. I’ve pretty much done everything I could to try and get my hip feeling better, and it hasn’t helped loads,” the two-time Wimbledon champion has said.
“I’m in a better place than I was six months ago, but I’m still in a lot of pain.”
But let’s consider a hypothetical situation where Murray does find his way back to something approaching full fitness….
Can he realistically win the French Open? The evidence suggests not.
Even in his prime, Murray only reached a solitary final at Roland Garros where he lost in four sets to that man Djokovic.
A run of form reading SF-SF-F-SF showed massive improvement in recent years, but the physical toil of playing on clay – there’s sliding around, lots of lateral running and twisting and turning – surely wouldn’t suit Murray’s current predicament.
Perhaps he’ll go the way of Roger Federer, and forego the trip to France altogether.
If he can find some kind of fitness, and get through the next few months unscathed, Wimbledon will represent Murray’s final hurrah as a professional tennis player.
It will be an emotional occasion, but knowing Murray’s tenacity this won’t be a consolatory retirement run-out. He will head to SW19 with victory on his mind.
This is his favourite arena, of course, having bagged two Wimbledon titles as well as an Olympic gold medal held at the venue.
The quicker surface could suit too, with shorter rallies minimising the amount of aggravation that Murray aces.
And here’s a really interesting scenario: even if he isn’t fit enough to play in the men’s singles, what a joy it would be see him link up with brother Jamie to try and win the doubles; a fitting swansong for one of the best British sportsmen of the modern era.