In the end, the mind went where the body could not follow. After innumerable consultations, half a dozen withdrawals, one futile surgical procedure, months of rehabilitation and untold agony, a hip socket – one measly joint – has stolen years away from Andy Murray.
For 18 months it has seemed a slow march towards the inevitable, but only Murray and his team know just how long he has had to cope with that gremlin next to his groin, having been described as ‘longstanding’ when the problem was first reported in June 2017.
The 31-year-old was – and for the moment, still is – a player who would fight for every cause, however hopeless. That is why, for however gloomy the forecast got, it was hard to doubt that this steely Scot would find an answer.
The pain finally put a full stop on the one answer he was trying to avoid. So on Friday, in a press conference at Melbourne Park, he was forced to address it not only to the world’s media, but himself.
And it was hard to watch. Really hard.
The impending retirement of a sports star is no tragedy, but it reaches for the heartstrings in a peculiar way. He has been a part of many lives since going up two sets against David Nalbandian at Wimbledon in 2005, before his gangly 18-year-old frame conked out. Even then, the mind was going where the body could not follow.
That is why the very best athletes deserve our adulation, our glorification. Not because they are superior, but because they are living embodiments of human potential. With that singular mindset comes thousands of hours dedicated, thousands of hours sacrificed. They remind us of what we could be capable of, if we tried that little bit harder in our particular walk of life.
What a life Murray has led. Laying the ghost of Fred Perry to rest after 76 years and becoming the first British man to win a Grand Slam since 1936 at the US Open in 2012. Then at Wimbledon a year later, the tournament for so long synonymous with strawberries, cream and plucky Brits coming up short.
Two Olympic golds, one in London. A Davis Cup – another British millstone from 1936 – all the more remarkable for his victory in all eight singles rubbers over the course of the season. A further Wimbledon success, a total of nine Grand Slam finals, the ascension to world No1 in 2016.
He is truly one the finest tennis players to have ever lived in an era where it just so happened that three slightly finer ones, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, were also around for.
It was a practice match against Djokovic in which he felt a different throb of pain, one from the heart. The Serb has won more than his fair share of matches against Murray but never without having to pull off the spectacular. After his peer had dragged him around the Margaret Court Arena for the best part of two sets, a ‘helpless’ Murray could only look back on those famous duels in past tense.
So, what next? The mind may now be wounded too, but the boy from Dunblane who at one time conquered a sport has already proven he has so much to offer beyond collecting trinkets and trophies.
Murray has been a consistent champion of feminism within the sport, including equal pay for women and the appointment of a female coach in Amelie Mauresmo. It was Billie Jean King, the most tireless advocate of equality within the game following a similarly storied career, who predicted that his ‘greatest impact on the world may be yet to come’.
He was made a knight of the British realm not only for his services to tennis but to charity, raising awareness for many issues such as the prevention of malaria and cancer awareness.
Followers, on social media especially, will know the perception he is a po-faced, humourless Scotsman, who once dared to make a joke about the England national football team, has long since been proved false.
His skill set could lend to a governing role. There are issues that need an experienced voice to weigh in such as calendar congestion, controversial rule changes, the proposed revamping of several tournaments, widespread allegations of match-fixing.
Closer to home, the Lawn Tennis Association is struggling with participation numbers and has a history of failing to develop the talents of its own juniors. Don’t forget, Murray had to go abroad to achieve his potential.
Indeed, where his mind goes, a sports body will surely follow.
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