Andy Murray may not be finished – Briton bids emotional farewell to Australian Open after defeat but he may try again next year
- British star battles back from two sets down but was unable to sustain his momentum in his first-round match
- The retiring three-time grand slam champion may have played his last match in a major
Britain’s Andy Murray fell short of a breathtaking comeback as he bid an emotional farewell to the Australian Open after a first-round defeat by Spain’s Roberto Bautista Agut yesterday.
The three-time grand slam champion, who said he would retire this year after failing to overcome a hip problem, battled back from two sets down to even the score after two tiebreak victories. But the 31-year-old Scot was unable to maintain his momentum as Bautista Agut dominated the deciding set to run out a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (4-7), 6-2 winner.
As soon as he finished the match, the Spaniard stopped his celebration to climb over the net and hug Murray, who was given a standing ovation by a frenzied crowd that backed him throughout the match.
Something Bautista Agut acknowledged.
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“He deserved an atmosphere like this,” said the Spanish 22nd seed.
Afterwards, Murray slumped into his chair, exhausted and his mother, Judy, went on to the court to wipe away his tears.
Murray, who has won two Wimbledon titles and one US Open, said he would likely miss the All England tournament this year if his hip fails to stand up to the rigours of playing a the highest level. Which means, his loss on Monday may have been the final singles match of his grand slam careers.
Murray, however, refused to completely rule out a return to Melbourne Park, saying he needed a medical miracle to be back in 2020.
“Maybe I’ll see you again. I’ll do everything possible to try,” he told the crowd. “If I want to go again, I’ll need to have a big operation, which there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to come back from anyway, but I’ll give it my best shot.”
Murray had entered the packed Melbourne Arena to a huge ovation as Scottish Saltires and British Union flags were flown while one banner proclaimed: “There will only ever be one Andy Murray”.
The outpouring of support seemed to lift him and despite grimacing with pain after some rallies he was nevertheless moving relatively freely as the Spaniard took the opening set in 50 minutes.
The in-form Bautista Agut had beaten world number one Novak Djokovic on his way to winning the Qatar Open at the start of the month and he broke again for 4-2 in the second as a hampered Murray began to struggle.
But Murray would not lie down. Watched by mum Judy Murray and brother Jamie he pulled off some vintage magic to win the opening point of the third set with an outrageous half-volley lob over the advancing Spaniard, followed by a deft drop-volley winner at the net.
Bautista Agut broke for 2-1 and just as the end looked like it would come quickly, Murray dug deep and had the crowd on their feet after a winner down the line at the end of long rally to break back.
“Right, let’s go,” Murray shouted and held to love with an searing ace to nudge ahead 3-2 and bring another mighty roar from the crowd.
Murray forced a tiebreak and was never behind, securing it 7-5 with a scream of “come on” and a huge fist pump.
Suddenly the comeback was on.
The fourth set went with serve and Murray again prevailed in a tie-break on the fourth of his five set points – but not before being interrupted as he served to stay in the match at 5-6 by fireworks going off at the nearby Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Once Bautista Agut broke in the fifth, Murray’s resolve finally crumbled and the Spaniard took it 6-2. He will face unseeded Australian John Millman in the second round.
“Amazing. That was incredible, thank you so so much to everyone that came out tonight,” Murray said after being swept along on a wave of vociferous support.
“Honestly I’ve loved playing here over the years. If this was my last match, an amazing way to end. I gave everything I had and it wasn’t enough tonight.”