MELBOURNE, Australia — Andy Murray knew his final moments on the court were ticking away. Trailing 5-1 in the fifth set against Roberto Bautista Agut in the first round of the Australian Open, Murray, who had conceded victory at this point, stopped at the baseline, looked up at the adoring crowd, raised his racket and soaked in the applause.
The noise only grew louder as his mother, Judy, was shown on the big screen, both reveling in and lamenting the moment.
“I was emotional,” Murray said. “It was cool. I don’t think I’ve had that before in any matches. I don’t know if when I came to serve at Wimbledon for [the title], I don’t know if that happened.
“It was brilliant. The atmosphere the whole match was amazing. I loved it. I’m really appreciative that the people gave me that atmosphere to play in. Yeah, I really enjoyed it.”
Even with a noticeable wobble, Murray put everything on the line, and for a while it looked as if he might pull off a minor miracle. But while his mind was willing, his body — his hip — had other plans.
Just days after he announced he plans to retire no later than Wimbledon because of that right hip injury, Murray fought hard against the No. 22 seed. Murray came back from two sets down to force a decider, but eventually fell 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (4), 6-2.
Speaking to the British press before the event, Murray hinted he might have a hip resurfacing operation sooner rather than later, a decision that could affect his chance to play Wimbledon depending on how quickly he recovers.
“If this was my last match, this was a great way to end,” he said. “I gave literally everything I had. It wasn’t enough on this night.
“I don’t know. 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 where there are no guarantees I will be able to come back from. I will give it my best shot.”
In his news conference a short while later, Murray said he would decide what to do within the next week or so. “I have basically two options,” he said. “One is to take the next 4½ months off, then build up, play Wimbledon.
“Although tonight was not comfortable in terms of my hip, I could play another match. But if I want to try to play again, I want to improve my quality of life, because even if I take four months, I still can’t walk. I’m still in pain doing just basic day-to-day things.
“Having an operation like that, there’s absolutely no guarantees I’d be able to play again. I’m fully aware of that. It’s a really big operation. But there is the possibility, because guys have done it before. Bob Bryan is doing it just now. Some other athletes have given it a go. But, like I said, there’s no guarantees. That’s kind of the decision I have to make, that possibility of not having one more match by having the operation.”
Limping between points, as he has been for much of the past 20 months, Murray played one of his best matches since he underwent a hip operation last January. But when Bautista Agut, playing smart, controlled tennis, took the first two sets, it looked like it might be an early night.
But Murray has never done things easily, and few players have his history of drama. Whether it was adrenaline or sheer will, he raced around the court like a swashbuckling 20-year-old and clawed his way back into the match.
Andy Murray admitted he will go ahead with his hip operation and will hopefully play in next year’s Australian Open as he crashed out in the first round shortly after a recent decision to retire.
Down a break in the third set, he blurted “Let’s go!” And off he went. The crowd, which had been hoping for some Murray magic, was suddenly roaring their support.
When he won the third-set tiebreaker, Murray unleashed another holler, the kind he has usually reserved for Grand Slam finals. Mom was loving it. So was Andy’s brother, Jamie Murray.
A little while later, Murray raced off to a commanding 5-1 in the fourth-set tiebreaker, which he eventually won. “Andy, Andy, Andy,” the crowd sang in unison.
But their joy quickly diminished, as did Murray’s movement. He was broken twice in the fifth, and that was it. The crowd gave him another standing ovation. You could feel how badly his heart wanted to pull off this battle. But his heart was no match for a hip that had enough of the grind. Still, the near comeback was a small reminder of what has made Murray one of the best players of his generation.
“If today was my last match, it was a brilliant way to finish,” he said.