If this was it for Andy Murray, if this truly was it, he gave himself — and an appreciative, raucous crowd that included his mother and brother — quite a gutsy goodbye.
What Murray could not quite do Monday at the Australian Open was finish off a stirring comeback and prolong what might just be the final tournament of his career.
Playing on a surgically repaired right hip so painful that pulling on socks is a chore, he summoned the strength and strokes to erase a big deficit and force a fifth set before eventually succumbing to 22nd-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2, Murray’s first opening-round loss at a Grand Slam tournament in 11 years.
“If this was my last match … I gave literally everything I had,” Murray told a full house at Melbourne Arena, his voice shaking. “It wasn’t enough tonight.”
Murray, just 31, is a year removed from the operation and he announced in the days leading up to the Australian Open that he will retire in 2019. The biggest looming question is whether he’d be able to make it to July for Wimbledon, where he won two of his three major titles, including the first for a British man in 77 years.
He had raised the prospect that he might not be able to continue past this week, although he did leave a bit of room open, saying after Monday’s match: “Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try. If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation (and) there’s no guarantees I’ll be able to come back, anyway.”
Even with a hitch in his gait, even as he leaned forward to rest his hands on knees between points, Murray summoned the strength and the strokes to push the match beyond the 4-hour mark.
And the fans tried to will him past Bautista Agut, who had lost in straight sets all three previous matches the two men had played.
They roared when Murray managed to break back to 2-all on the way to taking the third set, with his mom, Judy, smiling widely as she stood alongside other spectators. They chanted his name when he grabbed the fourth set. They stood when the compelling contest ended.
“Andy deserves this atmosphere. Andy deserves (that) all the people came to watch him,” Bautista Agut said. “He’s a tough, tough fighter. A tough opponent. He gives everything until the last point. I want to congratulate him for all he did for tennis.”
Afterward, a video was shown in the stadium with tributes to Murray from various players, including rivals Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, along with Nick Kyrgios, Caroline Wozniacki, Karolina Pliskova and Sloane Stephens.
“Amazing career. Congratulations, buddy,” Federer said. “I’m your biggest fan.”