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.
The 11th Edition of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship (MWTC) got off to an exciting start at the International Tennis Centre at Zayed Sports City on Thursday.
Defending champion and 2018 Wimbledon finalist Kevin Anderson and Next-Gen star Karen Khachanov booked their places in Friday’s semi-finals, where they will play world number two, Rafael Nadal and world number one, Novak Djokovic respectively.
But in what was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, 23-time Grand Slam Champion, Serena Williams, took on older sister and seven-time Grand Slam Champion, Venus Williams, in what was their first-ever meeting in Abu Dhabi.
After making the mother of all comebacks at last year’s Championship, Serena showed why exactly she is considered among the all-time greats as she broke her sister in the fourth game aided by a series of unforced errors from Venus, to take a 3-1 lead in the opening set.
However, 38-year old Venus broke her sisters serve in the ninth game with a wonderful lob that deceived her younger sibling. But Serena dug deep to break right back and claimed the opening set 4-6 in just 39 minutes.
The packed-out stadium was treated to a wonderful game of tennis as the sisters clearly showed that they can still be fierce rivals on the court. The players traded service breaks in the second set before Venus stepped it up a gear and broke Serena twice more to take the set 6-3.
Venus continued her momentum into the super tiebreak with a series of powerful forehand winners, to win the match 10-8 in an hour and 26 minutes.
After the match, Venus Williams said: “It’s your first match back and you never quite know how it’s going to go. We were both out there and tested our game – and it was pretty close in the end. In the first match of the season you just hope it goes well and I really enjoyed playing in Abu Dhabi. I feel pretty fit and I’ve done the work in pre-season, so I’m feeling good.”
Commenting on her game, Serena Williams said: “It feels good to be back out there, like old times! We both did well and I’m really happy. I enjoyed it more this year if that’s even possible – and it was a great opportunity for me to play before Australia.”
In the day’s first game, last year’s MWTC champion, Kevin Anderson, beat tournament debutant, South Korean, Hyeon Chung 6-7 (4), 6-2, 6-1 in two hours and 21 minutes. Anderson, who is making his second appearance in Abu Dhabi, broke Chung in the sixth game of the opening set to take a 4-2 lead, but the highly rated Chung broke back in the ninth game to tie it up at five games all. A series of unforced errors in the tie-break saw Anderson go down 6-7 (4).
But 32-year-old Anderson quickly bounced back and showed his prowess as he quickly found his range and raced to take a 4-0 lead in the second set. The Australian Open Semi-Finalist, Chung, had no answers to Anderson’s aggressive game as the 6’8” South African closed out the second set 6-2.
It was much of the same in the third as Anderson, who by now showed glimpses of his scintillating form from last year, by breaking Chung in the opening game. He quickly found himself in trouble in the second game, but he used his big serve to get him out of trouble fighting back from 15-40 down to take the game and then wrap up the set and match.
After the game, Anderson said: “It’s been quite a few weeks since my last competitive match and it showed a bit in the first set, but I was really pleased with the way I played overall. I was able to capitalise on his serve in the second and third sets – and that created a lot more opportunities for me.”
Anderson who will next play Nadal continued: “One of my big goals from today’s match was to get through and play Nadal. It is a great opportunity for me. These are the guys who have been consistent for a long time and these are the matches I love to play. It will be his first match in a while that’s why it will be interesting. The biggest thing for me is the belief and the confidence in being out on the court.”
In the second game of the day, Next-Gen star Karen Khachanov continued his red-hot form earlier this year by beating Austrian world number 8 Dominic Thiem in straight sets 7-6 (3), 6-3. The 22-year-old will next face world number one Novak Djokovic who he beat in the final at the Paris Masters.
The first set was a closely fought affair with both players exchanging service breaks before Karen took the set in a tie-break. In the second set, the 6’8” Russian blew away his opponent with his powerful forehand winners and wrapped up the match in an hour and 18 minutes.
نفخر برعاية لقب #بطولة_مبادلة_العالمية_للتنس والمساهمة في إبراز مكانة #أبوظبي كوجهة رياضية عالمية. ونؤكد التزامنا الدائم بدعم النشاط الرياضي وتشجيع أفراد المجتمع على ممارسة الرياضة. انضموا إلينا خلال عطلة نهاية الأسبوع! pic.twitter.com/bqMJIiiJMj— Mubadala (@Mubadala) December 27, 2018
Commenting on his semi-final match against world number one Novak Djokovic, Khachanov said: “It will be my second game and his first, so I am really looking forward to a good fight tomorrow. The energy from the crowd makes it a great place to play in.”
With all six male players in actions, Day Two is not to be missed. The action kicks-off at 15:00 as Hyeon Chung takes on Dominic Thiem for the fifth and sixth place followed immediately by the first semi-final between world number two Rafael Nadal and Kevin Anderson at 17:00. The second match will see world number one Novak Djokovic go head-to-head against Karen Khachanov at 19:00 for a place in the final.
MWTC tickets are priced from Dh100 and can be purchased from www.ticketmaster.ae or by calling 800 86 823 and all Virgin Megastores across the UAE.
Manchester has joined London as a leading candidate to host the ATP Finals from 2021 to 2025.
The end-of-season tournament is to be held at the O2 Arena in London through 2020.
That deal could be extended, while the ATP announced on Friday that Manchester, Singapore, Tokyo and Turin are the other shortlisted cities.
The tournament’s stint in London has been hugely successful, with an average of more than 250,000 fans attending every year, although last month’s edition was the least successful in terms of ticket sales.
Players have been split on whether the tournament should leave the O2, with Novak Djokovic leading the calls for it to continue its traditionally nomadic existence while Roger Federer argued there was no need to change a winning formula.
With Europe the current powerhouse of men’s tennis and the regular season ending with the Paris Masters, another European candidate may be favoured, although the tournament is currently sponsored by Japanese brand Nitto, lending weight to Tokyo’s bid.
Singapore hosted the WTA Finals for the last time this year before it heads to China, with Manchester missing out to Shenzhen in the final bidding for that event.
More than 40 cities expressed an interest, and ATP executive chairman and president Chris Kermode, who brought the event to London, said: “The level of interest we have received worldwide throughout the bid application process reflects the rich heritage of this unique tournament, as well as the success of the event at The O2 since 2009.
“It has been a highly competitive process, and the candidate cities on the shortlist deserve huge credit for the passion and creative vision they have shown in their respective plans to continue the growth of our showpiece event.”
The winning candidate will not be announced before March 2019.